A chunk of wall sits installed—standing as if ripped from somewhere else—in MoMA’s third floor atrium for Walid Raad’s exhibition. It’s a survey of the contemporary Lebanese artist and a maze of truths and half-truths, fictions and falsehoods. Signposts of trauma dot the way—of humans and weaponry—an archive of violence and anxieties both real and imagined. Raad makes artwork that pivots around the recent history of Lebanon, especially the Lebanese Civil War, a conflict that claimed 100,000 lives and displaced a million from 1975-90, and which still reverberates. The other primary concern of his work is the financial system of the art world, specifically the “Arab world” art world and the instrumentalization of art as big capital. From above, in terms of layout, it looks like a standard museum retrospective. Looking closer, the minimalism conceals forgeries of deeper contradictions.
Raad was born in 1967 in Chbanieh, a small village in a valley outside Beirut that prides itself on its orchards and intellectuals. He obtained his Ph.D. in Cultural and Visual Studies at the University of Rochester, and has shown work at Documenta, the Venice Biennale and the Whitney Biennial. An associate professor at Cooper Union, Raad has worked for the past 25 years as a researcher-cum-artist, creating works that blend real and fake. His work reveals the faults of documentation—how all images, data, and narratives are in some way fictitious, if only because they are momentary, piecemeal truths.
(Published in NYAQ, January 25, 2016)