Sfeir-Semler gallery presents Walid Raad’s fifth solo exhibition in our Hamburg gallery. The New-York based artist focuses on events, images and stories made possible by the Lebanese wars of the past few decades. Blithely blurring the lines between the historical and the imaginary, Raad’s works engage how experiences of extreme violence are lived and experienced, as well as the effects of violence on bodies, minds, art and tradition.
Born and raised in Lebanon, the artist continues to explore the Lebanese wars through The Atlas Group (1989-2004), an ongoing art project that takes the form of an (imaginary) archive. With this project, Raad usually leans on historical events and creates imaginary documents that he then attributes to imaginary and historical figures.
I want to be able to welcome my father in my house again, for example, shows pages from a 1989 diary, which is attributed to the artist’s father. Each page includes a drawing of a shell that fell around his house that year, and notes from daily life written under the bomb drawings (the devaluation of the Lebanese pound, the prices of building materials, the lack of gas...). Here, Raad proceeds from his father’s actual diary to create that diary’s twin, an imaginary document that condenses into a single spread the historical, economic, as well as the aesthetic qualities of the experiences of war.
In another artwork titled Better be watching the clouds and attributed to a retired army officer, Raad catalogues the various local, regional and international leaders that have shaped Lebanon’s recent political and military life. They are portrayed through the code names given to these leaders by Lebanon’s security services. Or so Raad says.
The exhibition also presents Raad's ongoing project Scratching on things I could disavow which probes the art history of the Arab World. This project was initiated in the early 2000s, when the building of new infrastructures for the arts was accelerating in the region, and looks at how artworks anticipate and respond to the historical events they witness. Letters to the reader suggests that certain artworks on display in the fictitious Museum of Modern Arab Art in Beirut have somehow lost their shadows. Wondering whether these had been destroyed or lost, the artist eventually comes to the conclusion that the shadows had lost interest in their walls. This artwork and its corresponding story function as Raad’s urgent call for an arts infrastructure that is senstitive to the effects of violence on art, and deserving of the new architectural forms this makes possible.
Raad’s newest series of works bridge the concerns expressed in his two ongoing art projects: The Atlas Group, and Scratching on things I could disavow. In his new monumental sculptures made of wooden transport crates and titled, I feel a great desire to meet the masses once again, Raad delves tangentially into the conservation of monuments in times of war. Similarly, Appendix 137 scrutinizes artmaking in times of war, with particular emphasis on the close relationship between Lebanese artists, militias and their uniforms.