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New York professor installs camera in head

By Laura Dolan, CNN
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Artist embeds camera in head
  • A New York University Professor installed a thumb-sized camera in back of his head for art exhibit
  • Iraqi born photography professor had the procedure done at a piercing studio last month
  • The camera will take a single snap-shot each minute of everyday activities for one year

(CNN) -- Some students joke that their teachers have eyes in the backs of their heads.

A New York University professor is now closer to that reality, having had a camera surgically implanted into the back of his cranium.

Wafaa Bilal, an Iraqi born photography professor at the university's Tisch School of the Arts, had the procedure done at a piercing studio last month for an art project commissioned by a museum in Doha, Qatar, he said.

"This will expose the unspoken conditions we face," Bilal said Thursday. "A project like this is meant to establish a dialogue about surveillance."

The project is called "The 3rd I," and will make use of the posterior camera by taking a snap-shot photographs each minute of Bilal's everyday activities for one year, he said.

The images will then be transmitted to Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, he said, featuring an exhibit entitled "Told/Untold/Retold" in time for the museum's December 30 opening, according to a museum statement.

The thumb-sized camera is mounted on a titanium plate inserted inside the back of his head, Bilal said.

A cable runs from the camera to a computer that he carries in a custom-made shoulder bag, providing a real-time global positioning signal of his location -- viewable on a website:

"I wanted to lose that subjectivity [of knowingly taking photographs]," Bilal said. "At the same time I wanted to capture everyday mundane images."

But the project has also raised privacy questions about the constant presence of cameras in a classroom.

University authorities have tried to allay those concerns by requiring a cover over the lens while Bilal is teaching on campus.

"We place a high value on his right to free expression in his creative work as an artist," said university spokesman John Beckman. "But as a school of the arts, we also take seriously the privacy issues his project raises."

"The 3rd I" is not Bilal's first venture into the controversial and unusual.

A 2007 project called "Domestic Tension" allowed virtual users to fire paintballs at him for an exhibit that prompted The Chicago Tribune to name Bilal artist of the year, calling it "one of the sharpest works of political art to be seen in a long time."

Bilal has said that he wants his artwork to examine broader ideas and realities.

"I see myself as a mirror reflecting some of the social conditions that we ignore," he said.