Date 0:0

Date 0:0 is a collaborative project between two artists of color, Wafaa Bilal and Sara Niroobakhsh. Wafaa Bilal is a renowned Iraqi-American artist, NYU Art professor, who is an internationally established new media artist, a Creative Capital award winner, and recognized by Foreign Policy magazine’s Leading 100 Global Thinkers for his work 168:01 as an advocate and ensuring that “the sword isn’t mightier than the pen.” Sara Niroobakhsh is an Iranian-born Canadian-based female artist of color from a visible minority of Persian and Arab heritage with an MFA in Art and Technology Studies from the School of Art Institute of Chicago, currently a visiting assistant art professor in the Interactive Media program at New York University Abu Dhabi. As a great believer in the power of art, science, and technology to carry creative storytelling into the future, she has spent the last decade experimenting with a variety of new media projects with a hybrid professional practice involving living tissue, plants, chemistry, virtual reality, and even her own body.

3D model of a beheaded date tree in Al-Ain, UAE

Date 0:0 is a participatory Extended-Reality project that reflects on the working and poetics of Mesopotamia farms. The date palm is one of the world’s oldest and most sacred fruit trees, and its harvest has long had a major influence on the lives of the people of southern Iran and Iraq. The Asorik date tree has been described as the Tree of Life, and as a legacy, many efforts have been made to preserve it over the years.

As two Iraqi-born and Iranian- born artists, they aim to create a participatory project to engage the public to revive this legendary crop, restore the destroyed date tree farms in their region after the war, and help farmers rebuild their burned fields in Iran and Iraq.

Intertwining the ancient Mesopotamian Asorik tree with interactive imaginary and mixed reality technology is a poetic act of preservation and restoration. This project is a multidimensional artwork that unifies both countries by planting virtually and physically thousands date trees on each side of the Iran-Iraq border.

3D scan of beheaded local date tree in Al-Ain, UAE

In the gallery space, participants’ actions will implement changes in both virtual and physical environments at the same time. They would use the interactive map to explore tree loss over time.

As a symbolic act of engagement, gallery visitors are invited to contribute to the project by planting a digital date tree in a virtual environment while simultaneously placing a physical miniature tree on the gallery wall. In return, contributors will receive a reward as a token of appreciation for their participation. The goal is to facilitate the exchange between contributors, and people in the field and deliver the funds to local farmers on both sides.

In addition, the NYUAD Library and Arab Heritage and Gulf Crossroads department assist us to study the climates of the Gulf and design the best interactive map to explore tree cover loss and farm change over time. With the assistance of professor Mohamad Eid, and team of engineers at the Applied Interactive Multimedia laboratory at NYUAD we are configuring the programming and interactive element of Date 0:0.

3D model of local date Tree in Ahwaz, Iran

This new media project is more than a charitable act: it is an act of engagement that allows people on the ground to see tangible results. The artists aspire to actively involve everyone in this transformative healing process. By encouraging broader participation in the project, they not only contribute to peacekeeping efforts across borders but also establish a sustainable environment for farmers and the populace of both countries.

Planting trees in each of these regions brings a multitude of benefits, challenges, and rewards. The aim is to empower individuals to make a positive impact on the environment, to restore date tree farms after the war, create jobs, build communities, and protect habitat for biodiversity.

By utilizing technology and decentralized platforms, the project seeks to alleviate the isolation experienced by local communities. Its potential to spark meaningful discussions on urgent contemporary issues.

Sketch for date tree installation in the gallery
Sketch for date tree installation in the gallery

The advanced virtual reality used in this project connects the real and virtual worlds in the exhibition space and their homelands in Iran and Iraq. These partnerships are between two schools of Art, the University of Basrah, and Shahid Chamran which involves other students and artists of colors.

Date 0:0 as a cross-cultural project not only engages and inspires artists to have wider collaboration but also invites the universities and educational forums to advance and expand the scope of their study beyond the confinements of their particular surroundings, encompassing a universal perspective in understanding human behavior. Date 0:0 provides benefits that transcend the limits of traditional art project approaches.

Secondly, the schools help them to build connections between them as facilitators, other artists, and farmers to establish a network. This project is going to take a substantial amount of resources. They aim to construct the project systems and technology based on the social- cultural resources provided by these two schools and afterward combine the outcomes in a joint exhibition together.

3D model of local date tree in Ahwaz, Iran

The project will consist of art exhibitions, diverse workshops, talks, and lectures by local as well as international artists and art connoisseurs that will take place in diverse art and cultural spaces.

Curatorial and educational program proposes:

1) an official project monograph documenting the creative and technical journey of the
artwork, and exploring its meaning and impact within the domains of art, climate change, archaeology, preservation, philosophy, and contemporary culture.

2) Use email campaigns, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts to generate and maintain interest in their projects, where they can customize their audience based on any professions, interests, and areas where they live.