November 17th, 2010
10:46 AM ET

Professor to implant camera in the back of his head

Professor Wafaa Bilal, known for his eyebrow-raising experiments, like having people shoot paintballs at him over the Internet, has a new idea sparking concerns.

Remember when your mom warned you she had eyes in the back of her head? She might have been onto something.

Because a New York University professor is doing exactly that - surgically implanting a camera in the back of his head in the next few weeks. Why? It's art, duh.

Professor Wafaa Bilal, who works at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts' photography and imaging department, is causing a stir because of his artistic experiment raises privacy concerns.

Bilal, who has a countdown on his website for the project - dubbed 3rdI - will have images from the camera broadcast live from the back of his head to an exhibit in a museum in Qatar scheduled to open in December.

The camera, which will be the size of a thumbnail, will be attached using a method similar to piercing, according to The Wall Street Journal, which spoke to Bilal's colleagues familiar with the project.

The artistic endeavor is "a comment on the inaccessibility of time and the inability to capture memory and experience," according to the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, where the installation will be displayed.

The Journal reports that Bilal will have the camera in his head for a year, and it will take pictures in one-minute intervals.

What will museum visitors see? Well, that depends on Bilal's travels, which is where the controversy comes in. Questions have been raised as to whether he will have the camera on while he teaches at NYU and whether students' privacy may be invaded. NYU is looking into the issue.

"As a school of the arts, a school whose mission is to educate artists, we place a high value on his right to free expression in his creative work as an artist, and take that principle very seriously," NYU Spokesman John Beckman said in a statement. "But as a school of the arts, we also take seriously the privacy issues his project raises, its impact on our students and the importance of preserving trust in the pedagogical relationship between a faculty member and students.

“There have been numerous conversations since Professor Bilal informed us of his project as we sought to find the right balance; we think they have been constructive and productive. We continue to discuss with him the right mechanism to ensure that his camera will not take pictures in NYU buildings.”

This isn't the first time the Iraqi artist's experiments have caught people's attention.

His work "Domestic Tension," where he stood in front of a paintball gun and allowed people to shoot him over the Internet 24/7, caused widespread buzz online.

His controversial video game piece, “Virtual Jihadi,” ended with a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union. Bilal hacked a video game and put an avatar of himself in the game and then appeared as a suicide-bomber hunting Former President George W. Bush.

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Filed under: Art • New York • Technology
soundoff (213 Responses)
  1. mpouxesas

    ...why are we reading this??

    November 17, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sifaluth

      Because we are pursuing knowledge and really cool CNN news! Go CNN, go CNN! Ha this is great talking to my new friends! I hated cryonic preservation, I missed so much cool stuff! Ya boo he heh!

      November 17, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. talon10

    There's a fine line between art and stupidity.

    November 17, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. talon10

    Hey, I have an idea. I'll do something similar, except that I'll just have a camera and walk backward...same thing right? Maybe I could get my 15 minutes of fame!

    November 17, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. NoMeImporta

    In the grand scheme of things, why does this matter so much to all of you?

    Why should it not be allowed for someone to walk around with a camera in the back of his head? Why is it any different from you carrying one in a case or in your purse? People take pictures every day, and send them all over the world. As long as he is held to the same rules and regulations as everyone else (cant enter certain places with the means of taking photographs) then I don't see an issue.

    And why would it be any of your business to criticize and ban anyone elses interpretation of "art"?

    November 17, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Duane W

    So ummmmmmmmmmm what happens when he has to visit the restroom? Does he cover the camera?

    November 17, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Robear in Ojai

    Who knows, maybe the good people of Qatar are looking forward to seeing professor Bilal getting humped from the rear...

    November 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sifaluth

      You've had too much sun at the Capri, my buddy! You're like the fourth person to write something about butts! Or as some people call them, booties!

      November 17, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Pokie

    I think some of you are way to paranoid!

    November 17, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Robear in Ojai

    Oh and BTW, professor Bilal's project does NOT qualify as "art".

    Social experiment, media event maybe? But not art.

    "ART" is a combination of things, among which are primarily: vision, artistry and craftsmanship. I see nothing of that in this publicity stunt.

    November 17, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sifaluth

      Art is everywhere, you big bad Bear! Let's check back in to the results and until then, keep it coming! You didn't reference anything about behinds this time! Naughty hee

      November 17, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • berational

      there is vision...

      November 17, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gonzo

      Ha! I thought that read "social excrement", which is my sentiment exactly!

      November 17, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robear in Ojai

      I am an artist, with a long and successful career. Yes, anything anywhere can arouse artistic sensibilities in anyone at any time, but this?... Give me a break!

      November 17, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. /e/tard

    What about when he's making out? Or does he not get any at all? Can I please have his wife's number when he's at his shows? I can spread a little sunshine to her while he plays with his toys and himself...

    November 17, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. capnmike

    It never fails to amaze me how the news media make a big deal about some stupid worthless thing like this while far more important news goes unreported.

    November 17, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tom

    Do I get to drill a hole in this guys head?

    November 17, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sifaluth

      Can you say, "weirdo"?!?
      PS my friends – I think it's really fun to vote on the homepage polls, and this one is about the royal wedding! I'd definitely prefer to watch this guy's art for the rest of my life over watch even a second of the royal wedding! I don't know them, jeez why do I have to watch! Can I come? I'll bring a, myself, and I! The queen would probably date me, that'd be insane!

      November 17, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Gonzo

    What a whackjob.

    November 17, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Lazerdawg

    How messed up does your "art" have to be that the ACLU is against you? I have been in the cargo hold of a C130 with the coffins filled by these jihadists. This man has freedom of expression but we are free to boycott everything he publishes, and students should not be forced to learn from such a horrible person.

    November 17, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aloisae

      The ACLU represented him.. they weren't against him. They sued a city that closed down his Virtual Jihad exhibit after it moved to an inadequate facility that wasn't up to public health and safety codes when the museum initially hosting it canceled the exhibit.

      November 17, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. cunspirosee

    folks, this is how obama is going to to take over the forcing everyone to wear tiny cameras. wait and see. first the bailouts then healthcare then tiny cameras and eventually TOTAL WORLD DOMINATION!!!!!1111!!!!1!!!1111

    November 17, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. NP

    Why not put a small camera on the back of a baseball cap or top hat?

    November 17, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
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