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Shoot an Iraqi

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Shoot an Iraqi

Wafaa Bilal is an artist who grew up in Iraq the son of a communist father and Shiite mother. Like so many Iraqis, Bilal's family was devastated by the extended wars that shook his country in the 1980s and 1990s. He spent years in refugee camps in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, where he was tortured and interrogated. After bribing Saudi captors, he escaped to the United States, pursuing a successful career as an artist.

Currently, he teaches art at New York University, and, before that, at the Art Institute in Chicago. In 2007, he created an interactive performance piece available online, which stirred controversy and drew attention from the Chicago Tribune and CNN. The piece, called “Domestic Tension,” was a comment on the disconnect between what he calls “comfort zones” like the U.S., and “conflict zones,” like Iraq.

For a month, Bilal confined himself to a small room with nothing but a camera and a remote-controlled paintball gun. He invited Internet users to at shoot him, while under 24-hour surveillance.

Bilal wrote a memoir about his life in Iraq and in art entitled Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun. Jerome spoke with him earlier this week. Bilal says his family's story is deeply connected to the recent history of his native home.

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