26 August–30 October 2011
What forms, stories, gestures and concepts are made possible by wars? How are certain events lived but not experienced? How does violence affect art, culture and tradition in material and immaterial ways? The work of the artist Walid Raad, who was born in Chbanieh, Lebanon, in 1967 and currently lives, works and teaches in New York, has been revolving around these questions for 20 years now. His oeuvre includes photographs, videos, sculptures, installations and performances.
Walid Raad is one of the most important figures of his generation of young artists from the Middle East. The exhibition “Walid Raad – Miraculous Beginnings”, which was organized in cooperation with the Whitechapel Gallery in London, presents a broad overview of his works from the past 20 years. The exhibition also provides insight into an oeuvre that scrutinizes the notions of document, fact, and fiction in film, photography, video, performance, history, and art history. “Walid Raad – Miraculous Beginnings” brings together the extensive groups of photographs and video works which the author created with The Atlas Group (1989–2004), his project in fiction about the Lebanese wars, and his latest project Scratching on Things I Could Disavow: A History of Art in the Arab World (2008–present), a provocative exploration by the artist of the situations, stories, and forms made possible by the recent art boom in the Middle East.
The Atlas Group (1989–2004)
The Atlas Group series of works is rooted in Walid Raad’s experiences in Lebanon over the past forty years. It is mainly dedicated to the exploration and documentation of the Lebanese wars of the past few decades. The accompanying archive, The Atlas Group Archive, contains audiovisual, photographic, literary and other documents which are classified in three categories: [cat. A] – documents that are attributable to an identifiable individual; [cat. FD] – found documents; and [cat. AGP] – documents attributable to The Atlas Group. Raad’s archive does not contain artworks that present immediate images of what happened during the wars. Instead, they present stories and forms linked to what can be said, thought, and imagined about the wars. Some of The Atlas Group files are attributed to fictitious figures and others to historical ones thus raising additional questions about the concept of the witness made possible by the Lebanese wars. With The Atlas Group, the artist is not seeking political or historical truth but is instead paying close attention to political, social, economic as well as narrative, emotional and aesthetic facts. For example, the file of Dr Fadl Fakhouri, a renowned Lebanese historian, was included in The Atlas Group Archive in 1991 and contains 226 notebooks, two super-8 films, and photographs.
Scratching on Things I Could Disavow: A History of Art in the Arab World (2008–present)
The second project presented in the exhibition is titled Scratching on Things I Could Disavow: A History of Art in the Arab World. This project explores the emergence of a large new infrastructure for the arts in the Middle East and its effects on artistic production in the region. Walid Raad observes the emergence of new art museums, galleries, schools and cultural organisations in cities like Abu Dhabi, Amman, Beirut, Cairo and other cities with fascination. The buildings designed by internationally renowned architects—e. g. the largest-to-date Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum by Frank Gehry, an Abu Dhabi Louvre Museum by Jean Nouvel and the Performing Arts Centre by Zaha Hadid, all located on Saadiyat Island, the “Island of Happiness” in Abu Dhabi—are the most visible symptoms of this emerging infrastructure, and also stand for Raad as the distorted mirror through which to view how art and culture in the Arab world have been affected materially and immaterially by the various conflicts that have ravaged the region in the past century. Raad’s artworks present some of the unusual forms, colours, and stories made possible by this massive investment in art in the Middle East.
The exhibition Walid Raad “Miraculous Beginnings” is supported by Präsidialdepartement der Stadt Zürich, Swiss Re, Luma Foundation, Hulda and Gustav Zumsteg-Stiftung.
Courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London.