Karim Ben Khelifa

Humanizing the enemy


Award-winning photojournalist Karim Ben Khelifa is widely known for his coverage of the Middle East conflicts, especially the Iraq and Afghan wars, where he covered the insurgent sides. For the past 15 years, Ben Khelifa has been on an increasingly ambitious quest, driven by the questions: What is the point of images of war if they don’t change people’s attitudes towards armed conflicts, violence and the suffering they produce? What is the point if they don’t change anyone’s mind? What is the point if they don’t help create peace?

While a Fellow at the MIT Open Documentary Lab, Ben Khelifa transformed his latest project, The Enemy, from a photo exhibition into a virtual reality installation. This immersive installation uses virtual reality to bring the audience into contact with soldiers from opposite sides of longstanding global conflicts. He has further developed the project as a CAST Visiting Artist, in collaboration with Fox Harrell of the Imagination, Computation and Expression (ICE) Laboratory. Together, they are incorporating concepts from cognitive science and artificial intelligence-based interaction models into the project, with the goal of testing whether a VR installation can engender empathy and humanistic reflection for each side of the story through listening to the soldiers’ testimonies.  
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Past Events

“Virtually There: Documentary Meets Virtual Reality”
Open Documentary Lab Conference and Exhibition
May 6 to 7, 2016

Conversation with Visiting Artist Karim Ben Khelifa and Associate Professor Fox Harrell
Co-sponsored by Art Scholars and Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship
Wednesday, February 24, 2016 / 5:00-6:30 pm
Tang Center E51-335
2 Amherst Street, Cambridge, MA

MIT Open Documentary Lab
“The Enemy” Presentation and Discussion
Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / 2:30-4:00 pm
Wiesner Room, E15-207
20 Ames Street, Cambridge, MA


“The Enemy” Prototype Demonstration and Research
September 26-October 7, 2016

Class Visits
September 28, 2016
Comparative Media Studies, CMS.628/CMS.828 Advanced Identity Representation

MIT Open Documentary Lab
Tuesday, November 3, 2015 / 2:30-4:00 pm

Presentation of “The Enemy”
Monday, November 9, 2015 / 2-7:00 pm

Class Visits
November 4 & 11, 2015
Comparative Media Studies, .950 Workshop I

In the Media

Press release: MIT Announces Virtual Reality Project “The Enemy” by Visiting Artist Karim Ben Khelifa, October 31, 2016

New York Times: Meeting ‘the Other’ Face to Face

The Jerusalem Post: Defining the Enemy

PBS: Tribeca Storyscapes 2015: Experimenting with Immersive Documentaries in that Awkward Headgear Phase

IGN: Meeting the Enemy and Dancing In the Dark At the Tribeca Flim Festival

BBC: Tribeca Film Festival: Exploring Conflict Through Film

New York Times: Going Interactive at Tribeca With Storyscapes

Photo District News: British Journal of Photography

Nieman Reports: Face to Face with the Enemy: Photos from the World’s Wars

Foreign Policy: My Enemy, Myself


Fox Harrell, Associate Professor of Digital Media in the Comparative Media Studies (CMS) Program and Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and Director of the Imagination, Computation and Expression Laboratory

Imagination, Computation and Expression Laboratory (ICE Lab)

MIT Open Documentary Lab


OpenDoc Lab: 2014-2015 Fellows

Comparative Media Studies: Karim Ben Khelifa