byon January 14, 2016
Wafaa Bilal, “The Ashes Series: Al-Mutanabbi Street” (2003–13) (all images courtesy Wafaa Bilal)
In 2003, during the invasion of Iraq, looters set fire to the library of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad. Seventy thousand books were reduced to ashes. Thirteen years later, the collection has still not been replenished, and local art students struggle to find books from which to study.
In 168:01, an upcoming installation at Ontario’s Art Gallery of Windsor, Iraqi-born, New York-based artist Wafaa Bilal has enlisted the public to help rebuild the College of Fine Arts’ library, one book at a time. The installation consists of a library of 1,000 blank white books, “a symbolic monument to the texts that were lost in 2003,” Bilal tells Hyperallergic. This 40-foot long, six-foot-high stack of six bookshelves is flanked with Bilal’s Ashes Series — photographs of his small-scale recreations of buildings destroyed in the Iraq War, dusted with ashes.
The physical exhibit itself is only half of the project. It’s linked to a Kickstarter campaign, and every donation goes towards purchasing educational texts from a wish list compiled by faculty at the College of Fine Arts. When a donor pays for a new art book, it will replace a blank white book on the shelves at the Windsor installation.