Varley Art Gallery of Markham is launching its Winter Exhibitions, which includes a major solo exhibition of new and recent work by Iraqi-born, New York-based artist Wafaa Bilal.

The artist is renowned for his online performances and technologically-driven encounters that speak to the impact of international politics on individual lives. In Wafaa Bilal: 168:01, he takes the Bayt al-Hikma, or House of Wisdom, as a starting point for a sculptural installation of a library.

The Bayt al-Hikma was a major academic centre during the Islamic Golden Age where Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars studied the humanities and science. By the middle of the ninth century, it had accumulated the largest library in the world. Four centuries later, a Mongol siege laid waste to the all the libraries of Baghdad. According to some accounts, the Bayt al-Hikma was thrown into the Tigris River to create a bridge of books for the Mongol army to cross. The pages bled ink into the river for seven days, after which the books were drained of knowledge.

Today, the Bayt al-Hikma represents one of the most well-known examples of historic cultural loss as a casualty of wartime. For this exhibition, Bilal has constructed a makeshift library filled with empty white books. The books symbolize the cultural heritage destroyed at Bayt al-Hikma, as well as the libraries, archives and museums whose systematic decimation by occupying forces continues to ravage his homeland.

The exhibition is organized and circulated by the Art Gallery of Windsor. It runs at Varley Art Gallery, located on Main Street in Unionville, from Jan. 20 to April 29. A second exhibition, Inscapes, curated by Anik Glaude, will also be on view at the gallery during this time.

Learn more at www.markham.ca.