America has not seen its own land shattered by war in a century and a half. It is easy to forget. But war is immediate for Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal, who left Iraq as a refugee in 1991 and came to the United States. Bilal is best known for work that probes the raw points of conflict between his birthplace and his adopted home. In 2007, he lived in a Chicago gallery for a month, making himself the object of target practice for online viewers who could play a live game of “shoot the Iraqi” by remotely aiming and triggering a paintball gun at him.
Bilal’s powerful new project, “The Ashes Series,” at the David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University, is more contemplative. The mournful series features photographs of tableaus he created based on news photos of buildings in Iraq — bombed, looted, reduced to piles of rubble.