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Shoot an Iraqi

Book Review by Bea Leal, December 2008

Wafaa Bilal and Kari Lydersen, City Lights Books, £14.99

Shoot an Iraqi is partly about the installation "Domestic Tension" by artist Wafaa Bilal, who lived for a month in the firing line of a paintball gun controlled by internet users. It is also the story of Bilal's life growing up in Iraq and in refugee camps. The two stories are mixed together, like the aim of the installation - to mix art and life.

Bilal is a political artist. In Iraq he made anti-Saddam paintings and in the US he made pieces about US imperialism. Then in 2004 his brother Haji was killed by a bomb from a remote-controlled drone. Bilal wanted to make something that confronted people with the result of their actions. Pressing the button to fire the paint gun resulted in him getting hurt.

People had different reactions. Some hurled racist abuse and hackers wrote a programme to make the gun fire non-stop. But others tried to turn the gun away from him.

An ex-Marine visited Bilal and told him he hadn't cared about shooting people when he was at war, because he was busy trying to stay alive himself. But seeing "Domestic Tension" on YouTube made him think about "the enemy" as human beings.

To the question "what can artists do to change things?", Bilal answers "build bridges - human being to human being".

Altogether this is a highly readable, moving book.

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