Wafaa Bilal: Turning Blank Pages into Tools of Learning

I no longer see myself as an artist who is encoding things in objects or actions. My role has shifted to initiate a platform for social and political engagement.

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad lost its entire library of over 70,000 volumes to looting and fire. Thirteen years later, students still lacked the books needed for their studies. Inspired to take action, Iraqi-born, New York-based artist Wafaa Bilal came to Kickstarter to launch 168:01, an art installation featuring a library of blank white books — limited editions offered as rewards to backers. Pledges funded the purchase of more than 1,600 books to help restock the college’s library, turning blank pages into tools for learning.

The campaign was a success, raising more than 650 percent of its initial goal. But it was just the beginning of a lengthy process of restoring this resource for an academic community that still faces challenges and instability. Bilal returned to Kickstarter for the next stage of the project, focusing on funding the construction of a communal reading space for students that can house the donated books.

Reflecting on the experience, Bilal observes that this project represents an evolution in his approach as an artist: “In the past my work was concerned with inner self-reflection and critique. I have shifted to thinking more largely about collective engagement. I no longer see myself as an artist who is encoding things in objects or actions. My role has shifted to initiate a platform for social and political engagement, and has allowed me to start thinking as an entrepreneur who is not constricted to making art as an expression but thinking about business as new form of art.”

Explore more works of installation art on Kickstarter here.