Wafaa Bilal’s new project 168:01 is one of the most poetic, political, and useful artworks of the last decade. Through the project he highlights and acknowledges the destruction of the cultural history of Iraq while enacting a process to rebuild it and move forward despite.
168:01 consists of a simple installation of blank white books gesturing to the loss of the entire library at the University of Baghdad College of Fine Arts where over 70,000 books were destroyed during the U.S. led invasion of Iraq in 2003. These white books function as a way to rebuild the library through a system of grassroot support. The artist made white books will be exchanged for the gift of a lost book or a donation to the 168:01 Kickstarter campaign. As a result the project will replace over 1,000 lost books to the University of Baghdad.
The title of the project and the blank white book installation also alludes to the 13th century Mongol siege of Baghdad. At the time Baghdad was home to the largest library in the world, the Bayt al-Hikma, or House of Wisdom. The siege resulted in the destruction of the House of Wisdom. Wafaa notes, “According to legend, the library was thrown into the Tigris River to create a bridge of books for the Mongolian army to cross. The pages bled ink into the river for seven days, after which the books were drained of knowledge. 168:01 takes its title from this story of loss, representing the first second after 168 hours (or seven days), which signals the beginning of rebirth and process of moving forward to rebuild.”
On a very human level, one book at a time, this project addresses large scale social and political issues, and interweaves history, poetics, and action. The result is a project that achieves what few artworks do, concrete improvements to people’s lives and the creation of meaning out of loss and destruction.
Wafaa Bilal is asking for support for 168:01 through a Kickstarter campaign. Consider taking a moment to join the campaign and/or spread the word through social media.
This blog was crossposted on ivaw.org