David Winton Bell Gallery

Past Exhibitions

April 3, 2013 - May 26, 2013

The David Winton Bell Gallery is pleased to present the American premier of the complete The Ashes Series (2003-2013) by Iraqi-American artist Wafaa Bilal, curated by Ian Alden Russell. The Ashes Series is composed of ten photographs of models constructed by the artist over a period of ten years documenting the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  This series builds upon Bilal's provocative and innovative artworks that employ photography, installation, robotics, gaming, and video to create interactive works that explore the dissonance of war and culture. Commenting on the exhibition Bilal explains: “In The Ashes Series I offer meditative and ephemeral moments addressing erasure and violence in the aftermath of war. By re-visiting recent history I am intentionally creating tension and incongruity to explore the duality that exists between the sacred and the profane through photographic practice.”

The photographs depict models constructed by the artist based on a collection of mass-syndicated images documenting the destruction of Iraq. Rearranging and recomposing the source images to create a new set of visual narratives, the artist’s photographs are still – almost serene. Quiet scenes -- of a chair persistently standing amidst the rubble, Saddam Hussein's unmade bed, or a lone hospital pillow left behind -- offer meditative and ephemeral moments addressing erasure and violence. In all the photographs, Bilal has removed the human figures that were present in the original images. He has replaced them with 21 grams of human ashes which the artist measured and distributed throughout the ten models before photographing them. These 21 grams reference the supposed mythical weight lost by the departure of the soul from the body at the time of death. Bilal scattered them as a performative gesture to retain a human aura in the photographs. This poetic act troubles the serenity of the scenes - the afterimage of conflict. The proverbial dust, captured suspended in mid-air by the camera, will never settle.

About the artist

Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal, an Assistant Arts Professor at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, is known internationally for his online performative and interactive works. In 3rdi (2010-2011), Bilal had a camera surgically implanted on the back of his head to spontaneously transmit images to the web 24 hours a day – a statement on surveillance, the mundane and the things we leave behind. Bilal’s 2010 work ...And Counting similarly used his own body as a medium. His back was tattooed with a map of Iraq and dots representing Iraqi and US casualties – the Iraqis in invisible ink visible only under a black light. Bilal's 2007 installation, Domestic Tension, also addressed the Iraq war. Bilal spent a month in a Chicago gallery with a paintball gun that people could shoot at him over the internet. The Chicago Tribune called it "one of the sharpest works of political art to be seen in a long time" and named him 2008 Artist of the Year. Bilal's work is constantly informed by the experience of fleeing his homeland and existing simultaneously in two worlds – his home in the "comfort zone" of the U.S. and his consciousness of the "conflict zone" in Iraq. Bilal graduated with a BFA from the University of New Mexico and obtained an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

More information on Bilal's work available at: http://wafaabilal.com/