A large bookshelf with row after row of white books stands in the middle of the gallery. The white books represent the loss of precious knowledge and resources through the destruction of the libraries of Baghdad.
In his exhibition 168.01 at Art Gallery of Windsor, Artist Wafaa Bilal has created an opportunity for anyone who has read about tragedies like this and wondered “what can I do to help?” to take action.
Bilal’s exhibition and supporting Kickstarter campaign shifts beyond “raising awareness” into empowering inspired action.
Through a Kickstarter campaign, Bilal has been collecting donations (starting at $10) to purchase books that will be used to rebuild the library at the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad.
To date he’s raised more than $58,000 to purchase books requested by the Fine Arts faculty.
For his exhibition at Art Gallery of Windsor, Bilal will replace the rows of white books in the gallery that symbolize loss and destruction with the new books that represent hope and renewal. After the close of the exhibition, the new books will be sent to the library at the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad.
Wafaa Bilal’s 168.01 is deeply inspiring on many levels. Conceptually and as an installation, the work is powerful. The use of the gallery space, the symbolism of the books, and the performative acts of unpacking, cataloging, and shelving the donated books makes the experience robust and thought provoking. The social engagement of shared, grass roots action that involves the artist and multiple audiences feels like a new shade of relational aesthetics.
Bilal has created a work of art that answers a calling that many of us feel deeply – how to be part of the solution to problems that plague our world. Especially those that are a world away. Bilal could have easily stopped at using his exhibition to raise our awareness about the need for books at the University of Baghdad. Instead, he used the freedom he has to create the structures needed to fill a library with new books and hope….raised from the ashes of destruction, with the breath of inspired action.