Glassell School of the MFAH Presents Signature Work Of Contemporary Artist Walid Raad
The Glassell School of Art’s Core Exhibition Program continues this fall with Walid Raad: The Atlas Group Documents, featuring work by the provocative Lebanese-American artist Walid Raad.
Beginning in 1989, Raad produced his work under the rubric of an artistic alter ego, The Atlas Group, which he describes as an imaginary foundation whose goal was to document the Lebanese Civil Wars of 1975-1990. For approximately fifteen years Raad/The Atlas Group collected or produced an extensive archive of audio, visual and literary documents to record the war-torn country’s history. Through the exhibition of the contrived foundation’s works, Raad sought to raise questions about authorship, authenticity and how we understand and interpret current and historical events.
Over the years, it has become clear that The Atlas Group is not actually a foundation, but a project created by the artist and synonymous with his work of that period. A focal point of Raad’s artistic practice for over a decade, many of the books that Raad has authored discuss the project, and many of the artistic works created under his own name can, and sometimes are, re-contextualized as part of The Atlas Group’s Archive. As both a working artist and a professor at the Cooper Union, Raad’s work is influential to younger, emerging artists, particularly those who are interested in politics.
Two series of photographs and two video projections from the “collection” of The Atlas Group will be shown from Sept. 12 through Nov. 23 at the Glassell School of Art, 5101 Montrose Blvd. Raad will also give a performance “lecture” on opening night, which will take place at 5 p.m. in the Glassell School’s Freed Auditorium Sept. 12.
One series of images is comprised of 100 photographs, taken by photojournalists and archived in the An-Nahar Research Center (Beirut, Lebanon) and the Arab Documentation Center (Beirut, Lebanon), of the same subject: the remains of engines from bombed-out cars. These images were collected by the artist, who wrote accompanying text. A second set of images is comprised of 19 negatives from photographs that the teenage Raad took in the summer of 1982 as documentation of the Israeli land, air, and sea assault on West Beirut.
The two video installations similarly play on fact, memoir and reportage. “I only wish that I could weep” (2002) is attributed to a Lebanese army intelligence officer, Operator #17, who had a privileged view from the Green Line that separated East and West Beirut. Instead of monitoring his target, Operator #17 taped the setting on the Corniche—an event he had never witnessed, having grown up in East Beirut. The second video, with voiceover dubbed by a female speaker, is the purported memoir of the only Arab man held hostage with Americans during the Lebanon hostage crisis of the mid-1980s.
“Always thought-provoking and relevant, Raad’s work inspires viewers to join him in considering the nature of historical documentation,” states the associate director of the Glassell Core Program, Mary Leclere, who also organized the exhibition. “While official sources documenting violence turn viewers into distanced spectators, an imaginary archive forces viewers to actively evaluate what they are seeing, taking responsibility for their interpretations.”
The Glassell School of Art is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. – 10 p.m., and Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 713-639-7500 or visit www.mfah.org.