Dear President Jackson,
We are writing to support the Art Department’s decision to present the Wafaa Bilal’s ‘Virtual Jihadi’ exhibition, in order to spark debate about the Iraq War and the stereotyping of Iraqis in video games. What is the role of art, let alone education, if it is not to encourage public discussion about pressing issues of our time? By shutting down the exhibition, the administration of the RPI has deprived their students of a valuable space to consider, question and discuss these issues. We are also concerned that the censoring of this exhibition sets a dangerous example, and that artists and students will be much more hesitant about creating work about controversial issues in the future.
We are also expressing our shock that the RPI administration bowed so easily to student members of the Republican Party and the Republican alumni. The Republican Union website at RPI has in fact been shut down due to breaches of the computer conduct code, and as such, is hardly a credible source on which to base the decision to censor the exhibition. Furthermore, the statement on the RPI website includes language describing concerns that ‘the work may be based on a product of Al Qaeda’, even after the administration was explicitly told by the FBI that Bilal was not a ‘person of interest’. Such actions do not reflect well on RPI’s commitment to academic and artistic freedom, and can only serve to damage the Institute’s reputation.
Paul Jaskot, Secretary
Kirsten Forkert, Co-President
Karen Kurczynski, Co-President
Barbara McCloskey, Treasurer
Angela Miller, Co-President
Radical Art Caucus, College Art Association
Dear President Shirley Ann Jackson,
This is an e-mail regarding the closing of “Virtual Jihad” show by Wafaa Bilal.
I am asking you to reconsider your decision.
Your institution is a private one so, in a sense, free speech argument does not apply in this case. I am also quite sure that military/governmental funding for a variety of projects at RPI has influenced in some way your decision. I think the most compelling reason to open the show is to stay true to the reputation of your institution.
RPI is one of the leaders (along with CMU, UCLA, and other institutions of analogous caliber) in the hybrid field of electronic arts. One of the responsibilities of the members of this field is to comment on contemporary culture through the use of contemporary technology. Mr. Bilal’s views and methodology is rather controversial but he is fulfilling this responsibility.
As a members of artistic community I have to point out that you are sending a rather mixed message by creation of EMPAC on one hand and cancellation of Wafaa Bilal’s show on the other.
So, WHY NOT CHANGE THE WORLD? 🙂
thank you for your time,
Dmitry (Dima) Strakovsky
Assistant Professor of Intermedia
University of Kentucky
Dear Shirley Jackson–
I can only imagine the confluence of factors that led you and RPI to shut “Virtual Jihadi,” Wafaa Bilal’s provocative art exhibit there. I ask you to reconsider that decision and to do whatever you can to reopen the exhibit and make it plain for all to hear why you think it’s a vital addition to the conversation in America today concerning our military operations in Iraq and our future relationship with the Iraqi people.
Just this week, Democratic candidate for president Barack Obama is having to beat back accusations that he is Muslim, more evidence that the taint of association with anything Islamic or Middle Eastern has reached some new lowest level of scorn and suspiciousness in our country.
Iraqi-American Wafaa Bilal’s work, I think you know, directly and powerfully addresses this cultural bias, which is being fanned all around, in Washington, in Hollywood, on the news and on the internet. This is the American ideal turned on its head, our stormy “melting pot” culture’s history of ignorance embraced rather than its history of tolerance and acceptance and celebration of difference.
I know where thinking people stand on these issues. I hope you will join us by doing everything in your power to reopen Mr Bilal’s exhibit and to help explain why reopening it matters.