Exhibition Closed, Artist Censored
Iraqi-born, Chicago-based artist Wafaa Bilal has had his exhibition shut down by administrators at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in Troy, New York.
The work, Virtual Jihadi, uses the trope of video games to examine issues relating to the Iraq war.
Virtual Jihadi builds on and adds a layer of artistic intervention to a video game that was originally built for the consumer market. The first version, called "Quest for Saddam", allows players to hunt for Saddam Hussein. In a second iteration, Al Qaeda hacked the game and produced its own version, called "The Night of Bush Capturing", which allows players to hunt for Bush. Bilal's artwork hacked the Al Qaeda version of the game, adding new narrative aspects relating to the suffering of civilians in the Iraqi conflict.
Here is Bilal's description of the work and the intention behind it:
This artwork is
meant to bring attention to the vulnerability of Iraqi civilians, to
the travesties of the current war, and to expose racist generalizations
and profiling. Similar games such as “Quest for Saddam” or “America’s
Army” promote stereotypical, singular perspectives. My artwork inverts
these assumptions, and ultimately demonstrates the vulnerability to
recruitment by violent groups like Al Qaeda because of the U.S.
occupation of Iraq.
In closing the exhibition, Bilal has been denied access to university buildings and questioned by the FBI.
The censorship has been widely criticized by the art community.
Bilal is a US citizen who emigrated to the United States after being persecuted by the administration of Saddam Hussein for his political artwork.