Reviews

Walid Raad at Museum of Modern Art

New York

Walid Raad, Scratching on things I could disavow: Walkthrough, 2011, performance view. ©PIET JANSSENS/PERFORMED AT: KUSTENFESTIVALDESARTS, LES HALLES DE SCHAERBEEK, BRUSSELS, 2011

Walid Raad, Scratching on things I could disavow: Walkthrough, 2011, performance view.

©PIET JANSSENS/PERFORMED AT: KUSTENFESTIVALDESARTS, LES HALLES DE SCHAERBEEK, BRUSSELS, 2011

How we construct history is the primary subject of Lebanese artist Walid Raad’s conceptual-art projects. Using photography, video, performance, and text, Raad doesn’t try to document the actual history of his country’s extended civil war; instead, he fabricates faux archives, mimicking the conventions of academic research and journalism to trap viewers into believing his vivid accounts, which may in fact be closer to truth than the mere presentation of facts.

The Atlas Group, for example, is a project created by Raad that ran between 1989 and 2004. It consists of an imaginary archive of diaries, photographs, notebooks, films, and artworks related to the Lebanese Civil War. In one instance, based on “facts” that may or may not be true, Raad covers black-and-white photographs of Beirut sites with color-coded dots, specifying the kind of ammunition used in the sites’ destruction. These works pack an emotional charge, coming off as more poetic than political.

Scratching on things I could disavow (2007 to the present) fills the museum’s atrium with projects that examine the emergence of art institutions in the Arab world. Aware of how disorienting it is to have museums and galleries sited amid war zones and sites of economic conflict, Raad characteristically foregrounds the issues through metaphor and form rather than argument and didacticism.

A version of this story originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 81.

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