168:01 – A Library Rising from the Ashes

The remarkable Aga Khan Museum in Toronto currently has an equally remarkable installation. Entitled “168:01 – A Library Rising from the Ashes”, this piece from Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal is about building libraries as an act of resistance.

For those who hate, violence against libraries is a sadly popular way to eradicate culture and demoralize people. Bilal’s installation is a wall of shelves holding 750 blank books in white covers.

The work recognizes all the libraries destroyed in war and ignorance. In particular it remembers the 2003 burning and looting of the library in the College of Fine Arts at the University of  Baghdad.

Burnt books from the College of Fine Arts Library, University of Baghdad

Russel Smith’s excellent article in the G&M about the exhibit explains the title: “[it] refers to a legend in Iraqi history: when Mongol invaders destroyed a library in the 13th century, they threw the contents of an entire library into the Tigris. The books were said to bleed ink into the river for seven days (168 hours), until the were drained of their knowledge. The number 168:01 refers to the first hour of their reconstruction, beginning now.”

If you buy a book for the exhibit, your book replaces one of the blank ones. Gradually the shelves be will replenished and at the end of exhibit all the books will be shipped to the library at the College.

There is a recommended list of books available on Amazon.  I bought and donated Ai Weiwei’s Spatial Matters: Art Architecture and Activism. In return I brought home one of the blank books (#54) that will be replaced by the Weiwei book.

A small act of resistance but one I urge you all to make.


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