One of the first people to see the Widows interactive book asked how I got the lines from the chalkboard to the page. Another tried to press down on the cover, not realizing that it was a book.
One tried waving his hands over the book, curling back pages, etc... to see how it worked. Cliff exclaimed, Oh! A book, a was one of a very few to sit down and turn page by page.
Only a couple of people asked about the content. I wasn't even sure that everyone saw the words in front of them. To some extent I wanted that to happen in that I tried to make them "invisible" in the way that the problem of widows in war torn regions is pretty much a forgotten issue. Winning, stopping violence, getting the economy running again -those are the issues that get the press: what happens to those left behind is overlooked to a great extent.
I haven't yet said some of my observations about content. The book consists of a grid of black lines on sheets of vellum, which diminish in number as one turns the pages, until there is only one division, than none. Symbolically, this can represent the lives lost in the wars which have dominated Iraqi society since 1980. It may also be interpreted as the invisibility of the widows themselves becoming apparent. The whiteness of the last pages is sort of a purity, a distillation of pain, the way a funeral clears the air so that we may start dealing with life again. A cleansing.
Simultaneously the viewer hears chalk being applied as a tally is drawn on a chalkboard to create three million squares. This is the round number of widows as stated by the Iraqi Minister for Women's Affairs. It is a symbolic number as well -no one can accurately count three million widows. It's unfathomable.
As pages are turned, the viewer sees the artist drawing one line on the board, then a grid, filling in the grid with many lines of white chalk. As more pages are turned, videos overlay and blend, till six views of the artist applying chalk, up to ten colored lines at a time, can be viewed and heard in what is now a cacophony. Some of the lines get blurred, some of the chalk is dropped making the count inaccurate. New lines blur and obscure old lines. the board becomes one mass of blurry intersecting lines the way each widow and family have a story that becomes part of the horrifying statistic.