NYU Art Professor Has Camera Implanted in the Back of His Head

Wafaa Bilal is no stranger to provocative art.  The Iraqi-born artist and NYU art professor came to notoriety in 2007 with his performance art piece “Domestic Tension,” influenced by a family member’s death by a drone attack in Iraq by the United States.  

For one month, Bilal lived in a Chicago art gallery in front of a paintball gun with an attached webcam that could be operated by anyone over the internet who wanted to “Shoot an Iraqi.”  Shoot him they did–his website received 80 million hits, and 65,000 visitors from 136 countries fired at him.  “Domestic Tension” reached beyond the traditional confines of the art world and spurred an international dialogue on what it means to disrupt the daily lives of others through the comfortable distance of modern-day technology.  

Now Bilal is turning the camera on others with a new project call “The 3rd I.”  About three weeks ago, he visited a piercing studio that specializes in body modification and underwent a procedure that installed a camera in the back of his head as part of a year-long piece he was commissioned to do for Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar.  

The camera, which is set to be activated on December 15, is rigged to broadcast a live stream of images taken at one-minute intervals online, and the museum will start displaying the stream when it opens on December 30.

Although Bilal had local anesthesia, he described the procedure as painful and still cannot bring himself to watch video footage of the camera implant. 

Some footage of the procedure, along with Bilal’s AP interview, can be seen here:

“The 3rd I” has already sparked some controversy and privacy concerns.  Dinner and party invitations have gone down for Bilal, and NYU, although supportive of the project, recently had him sign an agreement to wear a lens cap on the camera while on campus property to protect student privacy within teaching environments.

In his statement, Bilal wrote that “‘The 3rd I’ builds on my previous body of work in combining various art forms, such as performance art, digital art, body art and photography, into a unique conceptual piece expressed in my own unique artistic language.”

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, he stated that the project “was prompted in part by [his] interest in constructing a methodical documentation of his existence and surroundings after having no ability to do so during a nomadic existence in the Middle East.”  The piece is meant to “call attention to the idea of how many times we are recorded without our knowledge… there is nothing private, which is ironically the state of the state we are in.”

“He’s not really a photographer, he’s not really a video artist, he’s not really a performance artist,” exhibition curator Till Fellrath remarked.  “Whatever artwork he creates, he doesn’t want people to just look at it, he wants them to participate in it.”


Photo courtesy of milkmit via Flickr


Empress Ginger
Ginger Strivelli8 years ago


Roxana C.
Roxana Cortijo8 years ago

I am really surprised at the amount of people that actually fired at him. That tells something about the society we live in, doesn't it?
With respect to the camera project, who knows, it may show some new perspective of our society...

johan l.
paul l8 years ago

Did he actually py for this thing to be inserted in his head?
Hope not!
Anyway, maybe people will look at the images he transmits, otherwise there would have been no point!
Nuff said!

Molly Lemen
Molly Lemen8 years ago

interesting... i'm not sure what i think of it. the point he is trying to make is an interesting one... I would be curious to see how it all works out..

Jeffrey W.
Jeffrey W8 years ago

Damn, I wish I had known about that. I would have painted that guy head to toe with the paint gun.

Gale T.
Gale T8 years ago

I find this a very strange form of art I am sure there is other ways to hide a camera then to hide it in the back of your head. He should be watched wherever he goes.

Dana W.
Dana W8 years ago

This is creepy and disturbing - if he really an "artist" or a masochist who wants to exhibit that to the rest of us?