“creative freedom is being undermined…”

Dear President Jackson,

I am writing to urge you to reconsider your recent decision to suspend the
exhibition “Virtual Jihadi” by artist Wafaa Bilal. I encourage you to reopen
this exhibition immediately, and to engage in an open discussion with the
many concerned people in your community about the important issues this
exhibition has raised.

Our institutions of higher education must be committed to the open exchange
of ideas. Certainly Mr. Bilal’s artistic work asks difficult questions, but
these questions are valuable to reflect upon and debate, not to censor.

As I am sure you are aware, Mr. Bilal is a highly respected artist, known
for his work that allows us to think about situations that Iraqi citizens
must live within, as well as our relationships to the ongoing conflict in
Iraq. This particular work also raises questions about the nature of many
role-playing and “shooter” video games, which many students play without
thinking of its representations. Within these contexts, “Virtual Jihadi”
must be considered as a platform for discussion and interpretation.

RPI’s Art Department is very highly regarded because it is known for
encouraging and creating intelligent work that contributes to society. It is
disturbing that creative freedom is being undermined for fulfilling its

Surely, you are under intense pressure as this incident increasingly gains
attention. Please show that you respect the intelligence of your faculty,
your students, and the various communities that look to RPI to be a place of
learning, creativity, and thought. Open Wafaa Bilal’s exhibition and allow
people to engage and debate.


Joanna Spitzner
Assistant Professor
College of Visual and Performing Arts
Syracuse University


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