Domestic Tension, 2007

Wafaa Bilal
Domestic Tension, 2007
Video, time-based online performance; 7 minutes 43 seconds
Installation view: Art in the Age of Anxiety, Sharjah Art Foundation, 2020
Courtesy of the artist
Photo: Danko Stjepanovic


Wafaa Bilal is known internationally for his online performative and interactive works that stimulate dialogue about international and interpersonal politics. Bilal focuses on the relationship between the artwork and the viewer, aiming to transform the usual passive experience of viewing art into an active act of participation.  

One of his most provocative works, Domestic Tension (2007), was launched after Bilal lost his brother to an American drone attack in their hometown of Kufa, Iraq. In May 2007, Bilal began a 30-day performance piece to protest against the Iraq War. The artist was confined to a small living space in a Chicago gallery, where the public had virtual access. They could connect or chat with Bilal, or they could shoot him with paintball guns controlled from online computers. A total of 60,000 shots were fired over the course of 30 days by ‘shooters’ from 128 different countries. By the end of the performance, Bilal was drenched in yellow paint. The violence committed against him with the paintballs, despite his pleas for users to stop, acts as a metaphor for the drone strikes and military campaigns that took place in Iraq. In a world where first-person shooter games are heavily used as both entertainment and US military training, where do we draw the line between the real and the virtual, between our desire to create violence or to thwart it? This work raises awareness of how life can start to seem like a simple video game without any consequences.

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