Frequently Asked Questions:

What is Domestic Tension about?


Iraqi born Wafaa Bilal has become known for provocative interactive video installations. Many of Bilal.s projects over the past few years have addressed the dichotomy of the virtual vs. the real. He attempts to keep in mind the relationship of the viewer to the artwork, with one of his main objectives transforming the normally passive experience of viewing art into an active participation. In Domestic Tension, viewers can log onto the internet to contact, or shoot, Bilal with paintball guns. Bilal.s objective is to raise awareness of virtual war and privacy, or lack thereof, in the digital age. During the course of the exhibition, Bilal will confine himself to the gallery space. During the installation, people will have 24-hour virtual access to the space via the Internet. They will have the ability to watch Bilal and interact with him through a live web-cam and chat room. Should they choose to do so, viewers will also have the option to shoot Bilal with a paintball gun, transforming the virtual experience into a very physical one. Bilal.s self imposed confinement is designed to raise awareness about the life of the Iraqi people and the home confinement they face due to the both the violent and the virtual war they face on a daily basis. This sensational approach to the war is meant to engage people who may not be willing to engage in political dialogue through conventional means. Domestic Tension will depict the suffering of war not through human displays of dramatic emotion, but through engaging people in the sort of playful interactive-video game with which they are familiar.

Who are you?


Wafaa Bilal was born in Iraq on June 10, 1966. Because a member of his family had been accused of disloyalty to his country, Wafaa was denied the opportunity to pursue his dream of being an artist. Instead, he was to attend college to major in geography. While in college, he continued to pursue his art and was arrested and tortured for his political art work against Sadaam Hussein. Shortly after the Gulf War, Wafaa was inspired by President Bush’s message to the Iraqi citizens that if they attempted to overthrow Sadaam, the US would stand behind them. He became involved in organizing opposition to the government and was scheduled for arrest and execution when he escaped into Kuwait. There he was accused of being a spy and was close to being shot when his student ID convinced them he told the truth. Wafaa was sent to a refugee camp on the Kuwaiti border.

In the camp, people laughed when rather than accept life in a tent he began forming brick that he dried in the sun and fashioned into a home. The adobe served a practical purpose, for it provided relative safety from abduction by Kuwaiti soldiers who sneaked into tents in the middle of the night to kidnap young people for sale to Iraqi soldiers who tortured, raped and executed them or the Turkish soldiers themselves would rape and kill them. For two years, Wafaa lived in limbo not knowing if each day would be his last. Still Wafaa worked to improve his art, cleaning toilets in the camp to earn the money for art supplies, buying supplies for children for art therapy to help them to work through the horrors witnessed. His experiences developed within him an abhorrence of violence and oppression and strengthened his inner resolve.

In 1992, Wafaa came to the United States and took classes to learn English. Then, he began art studies at the University of New Mexico where he excelled. His art is of a political nature that speaks to oppression of the human spirit, including that of women who are bound by the rules of culture. He has won many awards for his art as well as a scholarship to the Chicago Institute of Art for post graduate study. He is now teaching at that institution.

In addition, Wafaa travels to give lectures on the oppressive nature of Sadaam’s regime in the hope of informing people of the complexities of the situation as well as the atrocities committed and the importance of nonviolent means of ending conflict. He has been interviewed by the History Channel and spoke on the Iraqi conflict at the Democratic Convention in New York City last month. Two months ago, his 21 year old brother who was staunchly apolitical lost his life to stray American gunfire. A few weeks ago, he lost his father whose health deteriorated after the death of his youngest son. It has been 14 years since he was last able to see his mother and younger siblings. He speaks to them on the phone to hear how they flee from one war torn city to another in an effort to find safety.

How do I visit Wafaa?

Wafaa is at FLATFILE Gallery in Chicago. Contact Info:

217 N Carpenter
Chicago IL 60607
11-6 Tues-Sat

Bring Wafaa lunch, some dry towels or whatever he needs! Fun Fact: Flatfile is 1 1/2 blocks north of Harpo Studios where the Oprah Winfery show is taped.

How do I shoot?

When the gun is ready, click the black icon in the silhouette of a gun.

Why Yellow Paintballs?

In the Chicago Tribune article, Wafaa Bilal choose yellow because it represents the "Support the troops" color associated with yellow ribbon.

Why does the wall look white/why use white paintballs?

This is an effect of the auto whitebalance of the webcam. The camera overcompensates for the amount of yellow in the room and thinks yellow equals white. The room is most assuredly covered in yellow. See press pictures and news via google.

I can't see the gun shooting?

The gun shoots at 300 feet per second. You can't see the shot even if you are standing in the room with the gun. The webcam updates every 2 seconds. Occasionally the webcam will record a picture the exact moment the gun is going off, causing the whole picture to blur.

I can't see the shooter log?

You are likely using Internet Explorer 6. Use Firefox for the ajaxy javascript update.

The chat/shooter logs are not updating?

This seems specific to Internet Explorer. Use Firefox.

I don't wanna use Firefox!

With the short amount of time this project will be active, development issues become a low priority.

What does the stop button do?

The stop button in the middle stops the gun from moving left or right. The code does work, however, with the short motor increment it is not very effective. Think of it as useful as the scroll lock key.

I want to help Wafaa by keeping the gun Left/Right?

I want to help by shooting till the gun is empty?

This is certainly a noble thing to do. However, to users visiting the site for the first time it appears the gun is broken. This detracts from the message Wafaa is trying to portray. Also, the gun is refilled often - shooting to try and empty it is futile.

How does the gun work?

The software that controls the gun is a python script that works over a serial port. Calls to shoot the gun send pulses to two solenoids that pull a metal rod across the trigger to fire the gun. A stepping motor moves the gun left or right. The local server operating the gun runs SUSE Linux.

I want to learn more!

See any of the sites in the footer of the main page. Youtube videos, The Behind the Scenes link as well as and flatfile. All will help provide context.