168:01—A Library Rising from the Ashes, Wafaa Bilal
In 2003 the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad lost its entire library of more than 70,000 books when looters set fire to the collection during the invasion of Iraq. Fifteen years later, students at the college still have few remnants from which to study. Iraq has experienced a long history of cultural destruction: In the 13th century, an invading Mongol army set fire to all the libraries of Baghdad, including the famed Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom). Legend describes the invaders throwing the entire library into the Tigris River to create a bridge of books for their army to cross. The pages bled ink into the river for seven days (168 hours), at the end of which the books were drained of knowledge. The title of this exhibit, 168:01, refers to the first moment when grief is transformed into a spur to action, signaling the beginning of a struggle to move forward from the ashes of ruin. As a monument, 168:01 mourns the loss of the College of Fine Arts Library with a site-specific installation presenting thousands of books of empty pages filling out rows of shelves. Visitors to the installation become participants, linked to the students and faculty in Baghdad, by purchasing and donating educational texts from a wish list, or by choosing to donate to funds to the 168:01 project.