A U.S. arts professor who had a camera implanted in the back of his head has been forced to remove it after his body began to reject the supports that held it in place.
Fearing infection, New York University professor Wafaa Bilal, 45, had an operation last Friday to remove — at least temporarily — one of the three mounts that supported the camera.
Bilal originally had surgery in early December to embed the device in his head as part of a performance art piece.
That procedure "hurt a lot," Bilal said during an interview with the CBC Toronto radio program Metro Morning Thursday. "The surgery lasted two hours and I was awake throughout."
Mounted on three metal posts, the camera is held in place by a titanium plate beneath his skin and outside of his skull.
The Iraqi-born artist hooked up the camera to a small, wirelessly connected laptop that transmits a photo every minute to his web site as well as to a gallery at the Arab Museum for Modern Art in Doha, Qatar.
Listen to Matt Galloway's full interview with Wafaa Bilal on CBC Metro Morning
Bilal said he has been in constant pain since his project began, but remains committed to it and has temporarily strapped the camera to his neck.
"I think it’s worth it — it’s raising interesting questions, and it’s also a performance piece… posing a challenge for me and the system around me as well," said Bilal.
He said the original concept came from a desire to capture where he has been and the people and places he leaves behind. Bilal specifically remembers being forced to leave his hometown by Saddam Hussein’s regime and watching smoke rise from the city.
"The project also talks about myself as an Iraqi-American living in the United States — being watched all the time. I want to reverse that act … you really don’t have to watch me: Here is my life, minute by minute."
The project has not only caused problems for Bilal — the pain caused by the camera has meant changing his day-to-day habits — but for those around him as well. He agreed to NYU’s request to cap the lens while on campus, out of respect for the privacy of students and faculty.
"The camera is not there to make people feel comfortable," Bilal said. "The point is to raise awareness of surveillance and the society we live in."
Bilal is currently considering options to re-embed the camera into the back of his head so that he can complete his plan to broadcast for one year.
"I have to go back and either implant another post or modify the camera."