168:01 – A Library Rising from the Ashes, Wafaa Bilal

Exhibition Overview

In 2003, the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad lost their entire library due to looters who set fire to the collection during the invasion of Iraq. In 1258, the library of Baghdad’s House of Wisdom, or Bayt al-Hikma, was thrown into the Tigris River by soldiers during a Mongol siege and, according to legend, bled ink into the river for seven days, or 168 hours. For artist Wafaa Bilal, 168:01 refers to the first moment when grief is transformed into a call to action, the beginning of a struggle to move forward from the ashes of ruin. Visitors to Bilal’s installation, a library of empty white books, encounter a memorial of loss whose austere palette has been transformed into a platform for change. Aimed at restoring the lost archive of the College, 168:01 positions visitors as potential participants. Each visitor who donates a book to the exhibition, from a list compiled by faculty and students, receives a white book in return, and at the end of the exhibition, all donated books will be shipped to the College.

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