Wafaa Bilal – 168.01 at FACT

Alexei Sayle - LAAF Patron, Mike Stubbs - CEO at FACT & Taher Qassim - Chair of LAAF

Wafaa Bilal – 168.01 at FACT

By Catherine Jones

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, looters broke in to the library of the University of Baghdad’s College of Fine Art and set fire to its contents – more than 70,000 books were destroyed.

That act of cultural vandalism is recalled in artist Wafaa Bilal’s striking work 168.01 (the books burned for 168 hours), which is being staged as part of this year’s Liverpool Arab Arts Festival. The Liverpool iteration of 168.01 by Wafaa Bilal is co-produced by Liverpool Arab Arts Festival and FAC and is part of The New Obserbatory – an exhibition by FACT and Open Data Institute.

The work, a ‘tower of knowledge’ on show at FACT’s Wood Street galleries, is both a monument to cultural losses during Iraq’s history, but also a platform for cultural rebirth. Because visitors to the exhibition are being invited to help the university rebuild its library in a practical way, by donating money to buy new books.

And generous Liverpudlians have already helped organisers raise enough money to pay for 20 percent of the target of 500 new books.

Curator Lesley Taker explains: “We ask people for donations. For example, if you donate £25 you receive a white book (from the exhibition) and in return the University of Baghdad receives a text book. There is a wishlist of 500 text books.”

From Tuesday, the text books which have been purchased with donations so far will start to be installed on the shelves of Bilal’s artwork. And at the end of the exhibition, they will be shipped to Baghdad to go on the shelves of the real library, to be used by students.

LAAF chair Taher Qassim says: “It’s so striking. And what strikes me is the concept about Iraqi history. Long ago in history there was an invasion, and the first thing was to destroy all the books. They were all thrown in the river.

“And in 2003, again, the first thing they destroyed was knowledge.

“Wafaa Bilal wanted to replace the knowledge WITH knowledge. And I think that’s genius. And it’s absolutely powerful.”

To donate to the library, people can either go online at or donate in the exhibition.

Supporters can make a donation of any size, but for £7 you will receive a limited edition custom print. For £25, you will receive a white book from the exhibition with the book plate signed and numbered by the artist.

And for £50 you will receive two signed and numbered white books, a print and a letter from the curators.

168.01 is part of FACT’s The New Observatory exhibition which runs until October 1.