Iraqi-American artist and New York University professor Wafaa Bilal is taking his art to new frontiers, so to speak.
As part of an exhbit for NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery 's Invisible Threads and its Discontents, curated by Bana Kattan and Scott Fitzgerald, Bilal made two replicas of deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's sculptures. He plans to send one of those replicas to space.
A statuette of Hussein will orbit the earth, and you can watch it happen because it will be doing a round-the-clock video selfie. A tiny camera will sit in front of Hussein's image, and anyone with Internet access can go to an assigned URL and watch.
Here are the original 9 meter high statues of the Iraqi leader. They were erected on the grounds of the Iraqi Republican Palace until the US invasion of 2003 overthrew Hussein.
The sculpted helmets are in the shape of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock.
Bilal made a gold-plated replica of the statue
And for the Invisible Threads exhibition – an art show that examines human relationships with technology – he created a replica of the replica. One that will soon orbit earth.
Erected in front of the rendering of Hussein is the tiny video camera.
The art piece draws on a story that made the rounds in Iraq for a while. It goes like this: the Ba'ath party wanted to accord their leader the highest of honors, literally. They planned to create an effigy out of the statue on Republican grounds and launch it into space where "it would orbit Earth for all eternity, gazing upon his pan-Arabic lands and its enemies with the eye of God."
"For the Ba’athists," writes Bilal, "Saddam was celebrated as a hero whose actions in favor of pan-Arabism marked him as the second coming of the mythical Saladin, who fought the Crusaders in Palestine and delivered them to justice."
The piece, straightforwardly named Thumbsat Satellite Model, will be propelled into space after Bilal raises enough funds for it. He will be working with a Tijuana-based ThumbSat, which sends tiny satellites into space.
Wafaa Bilal is well-known for provocative works that examine relations with power structures. He is best known for his interactive video installation Domestic Tension where Internet users are invited to "shoot an Iraqi" with paintball guns. Users log onto Bilal's web space and either speak to Bilal via chat or webcam, or to click a button that prompts a paintball gun to shoot him.
"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 both the violent and the virtual war they face on a daily basis," reads Bilal's website.
NYU Abu Dhabi's Art Gallery's Invisible Threads "explores the tensions that emerge in our everyday relationships with technology, looking at such issues as isolation vs. connectedness, and privacy vs. social media."
It is on view from Sept. 21 to Dec. 31 2016. The exhibit is open Mondays to Saturdays, 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., free and open to the public.