The final Friday of the month means it’s time for We Are the World Blogest, a day for promoting positive news. It delights me to participate as an agent of pronoia highlighting feel-good news stories for us all to celebrate.
Co-hosting this project this month are: Peter Nena , Inderpreet Uppal, Shilpa Garg, Roshan Radhakrishnan, Sylvia McGrath, and Belinda Witzenhausen. Do check out their posts, along with everyone else participating, and feel free to join us here.
The story I’m sharing today is one I love for many reasons. It’s an ongoing unfolding story reminding us that patience and commitment, dedication and persistence are important. It appeals to me personally as a book lover and an artist; as someone who believes art is important, that every culture has a right to flourish, and that it is our responsibility to support causes we believe in.
Let me introduce you to Iraqi-American artist Wafaa Bilal and his project 168:01.
During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad lost their entire library of over 70,000 books to looters who set fire to the collection.
Bilal’s response was to create an installation in Canada featuring a library of blank white books, representing a fraction of the books lost; information now lost as the blank white pages. Using the crowdfunding platform of Kickstarter, Bilal initially raised funds to replace each one of those 1000 blank books with replacement books for those lost in Baghdad. The project continues with more of the lost books being replaced, and the library space itself being rebuilt.
The project’s name 168:01 is a tribute to the time in the 13th century when a Mongol siege of Baghdad destroyed the world’s largest library. Legend tells that all the books were thrown in the Tigris River to create a bridge for the Mongolian army to cross, and that the ink on the pages of the books bled into the river for seven days (168 hours), after which the books were all drained of knowledge.
I invited you to read about the project here in this article, which also contains a brief video.
The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto is currently hosting the 168:01 exhibition through August 19.
I hold this project close to my heart for many reasons as I’ve explained above, but also because I was part of the first wave of Kickstarter contributors who funded the first 1000 books. I’m not someone who holds blank journals as too precious or too intimidating to use, but I’m holding on to this 168:01 blank book for a special project I’ve not quite fully formulated in my mind yet. But I certainly intend to fill its pages with words and art about loss and recovery.
May the time come soon when all words are safe and all knowledge is allowed to flourish, and there is strong peace everywhere.