…and Counting

"...and Counting"  Wafaa Bilal, 2010. NY, NY.  wafaabilal.com
“…and Counting”
Wafaa Bilal, 2010. NY, NY.

In 2010, Wafaa Bilal had a message to share about the way Americans understood the Iraq war. He was responding to the way that the number of  American casualties of the war was greatly publicized, but the much larger number of Iraqi casualties was largely ignored. In this 24-hour performance piece, Bilal literally transforms his body into a canvas, having his back tattooed with 5,000 red dots, representing American casualties, and 100,000 green dots that are only visible under ultraviolet light, representing Iraqi casualties. The painstaking process of being tattooed (which those of us who were not there at the time can get a glimpse of through this video,) the incessant buzzing of the tattoo machine, and the reading of the names of the dead, creates a moving, visceral, and uncomfortable sensation for the audience. Which is probably exactly what Bilal intends. This piece reminds us that that war effects all of us, and that war is written on our bodies. In the action of inscribing the names of the dead onto his own body, Bilal reminds us of the ways the dead are also inscribed onto our own bodies. “You feel that pain as much as I feel it,” he claims, according to this article from NPR. Bilal reminds us of the true cost of war, not only to the hundreds of thousands of people who die, and their families and loved ones, but also to those who are spectators to war, to those who insist war doesn’t effect them, to those who barely even know what is going on.



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