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Iraqi-American artist turns body into anti-war work of art

Published time: July 22, 2010 11:19
Edited time: July 22, 2010 11:19

Over four thousand American soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the military operation began in 2003. Baghdad claims that Iraqi civilians have suffered the worst, with more than 90,000 deaths recorded so far.

While politicians play the blame game, some people are taking matters into their own hands.

Waffa Bilal, an Iraqi-American artist whose brother died in Iraq, has repeatedly tattooed himself to draw attention to the casualties of war. On his body are marks for each dead Western soldier, and 100,000 dots representing Iraqi casualties.

“I live in a very difficult situation. The two countries I belong to, they are at war. Aggression from one country to the motherland country. And of course there is a huge amount of anger,” Bilal says.

As a result, Bilal has channeled that anger into art.

In March, the Iraqi-American turned his back into a canvas for an ongoing art piece called “…and Counting.” Observers watched while Bilal was scarred with a borderless map of Iraq. Though dots are surrounding the cities, they are invisible under normal light.

However, when seen under a black light, thousands of them light up, with each one representing the lives of Iraqi citizens and Americans alike lost in the conflict.

Bilal explained that the reason for having them in invisible ink is to call attention to how their deaths have gone unnoticed, which includes his younger brother Hagi. In 2002, while Hagi and fellow Iraqi civilians were demonstrating against the American occupation, a US predator drone dropped a missile on the protest.

“I felt compelled to engage people in some art activities that raise awareness about what is going on, since the media is not paying any attention,” Bilal says.

However, last month the US media did temporarily turn their attention to war – albeit the war in Afghanistan – not to mention the scandalous, mudslinging politics surrounding it.

According to the Pew Research Center, the Rolling Stone article – in which America’s top commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal publicly ridiculed the Obama administration for its handling of the war – took up 25% of the US mainstream news cycle, making it the second most talked about story in June. In third place was the condition of the US economy.

In addition, the war that is costing America more than $7 billion each month yielded minimum coverage, which leaves it for people like Bilal to draw a spotlight on the conflict that shows little signs of abating .

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