Wafaa Bilal Rakes Over the Ashes, Literally

Incisive might be the right word to describe Wafaa Bilal’s artistic practice, which manifests an unrelenting investigation into international politics. Tackling surveillance in 2010 and 2011, he embarked on an ongoing project, the 3rdi, in which he had a camera surgically implanted on the back of his head, constantly capturing images in its path and automatically transmitting them to the Internet. Another project in 2010, ...And Counting took shape on Bilal’s back, in the form of a giant tattoo of Iraq, covered with dots to represent American and Iraqi casualties; the Iraqi deaths were symbolically rendered in invisible ink. His new series, “The Ashes Series,” is no less pointed; a suite of photographs and a performance, they deliver an excavation of the aftermath of war, interventions of mass media, and the sanctity of human life.

“‘The Ashes Series’ depicts the suffering of war not through human displays of emotion, but rather through the absence of human life in once occupied homes,” Bilal explains. For the ten photographs on view now at Driscoll Babcock Galleries, the artist culled mass-media images of destruction from the war in Iraq and recreated their scenes in miniature. After removing all humans from the images, he incorporates their presence through 21 grams of ashes, scattered across each dioramic scene. In this way he mirrors the aftermath of war with the aftermath of life. The show is activated through an ongoing performance, Erasing, where Bilal will gradually cut away at a photograph of Saddam Hussein’s ruined palace. This poignant yet pervasive dialogue is tempered by poetic visual aesthetics, in the form of soft infusions of light and neglected objects of grandeur. True to form, Bilal delivers the grisly truth, this time reducing politics to ashes. 

The Ashes Series,” is on view at Driscoll Babcock Galleries, New York, May 1st–June 14th, 2014.

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