In response to the recent popular uprisings in Iraq that started in October 2019 and continue today, Wafaa Bilal has created a performance within his work in the exhibition, Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991-2011. To honor the more than 600 protesters who have been killed and disappeared by government forces to date, Bilal will be on-site to alter the remaining books that are on view in his installation 168:01. The installation invites viewers to participate by replacing one of the blank books on the bookshelf with a volume purchased from the museum’s bookstore, selected from a list of titles provided by the artist. At the close of the exhibition, the accumulated donations will be shipped to the College of Fine Arts in Baghdad to help replenish its 70,000-volume collection that was destroyed when looters set fire to the library during the American invasion in 2003.
Bilal’s performance corresponds to the anniversary of Colin Powell’s address to the United Nations on February 5th, 2003, when he infamously made a false case for war with Iraq. Bilal’s action connects the events of 2003 with current events in Iraq. As a member of the Iraqi diaspora, Bilal’s performance brings attention to the contemporary situation in Iraq, and the continued efforts of his fellow Iraqis to reform the country after decades of devastation.