For Lebanese contemporary media artist Walid Raad, art does not have to be grounded strictly in fact or fiction but can fall squarely on the line that divides the two.
Raad shed light on his unconventional work as a filmmaker, writer, photographer, and historian in a lecture at the Carpenter Center last Thursday.
Through his work—which ranges from video to photography to literary documents—Raad said he has created an artistic collection of historical fiction that serves as a narrative of a country that has lost much of its modern artwork to decades of war and political turmoil.
Visual and Environmental Studies professor Carrie Lambert-Beatty introduced Raad as “one of the most important artists of our time.”
“When I first saw Raad’s art, I couldn’t tell—is it a documentary [or] is it a work of fiction? All I could tell was that I just had one of the most astounding aesthetic experiences of my life,” Lambert-Beatty said.
“It shocked and amazed me—it delighted me. It touched me in a soft spot,” she added.
Raad works at the “strange and unique crossing of conceptual art, performance, filmmaking, and history,” Lambert-Beatty said.
Raad discussed his primary work from 1989 to 2004, a multimedia collection of historical fiction called “The Atlas Group,” which he attributes to the work of imaginary characters who lived through the turbulent years of the Lebanese Civil War.
In his discussion of “The Atlas Group,” Raad even found himself walking the line between fact and fiction before his audience.
“Oh, by the way, this part [of my lecture] is fact. And I don’t mean a fact in fiction; I mean an actual historical fact,” said Raad, who was met with laughter from the audience.
Throughout his talk, Raad described a series of personal anecdotes that detailed his motivation to study the history of art in the Arab world.
“If Arab art and culture had not been affected by the disasters of the past century, I would not be doing the work that I’m doing, because I wouldn’t be noticing it,” Raad said.
Raad, who is a professor at the Cooper Union School of Art, received the Hasselblad Award in 2011 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009.
“I think [“The Atlas Group”] is a really fascinating project. There should be more things like this to address the extremely traumatic moments in the history of Lebanon,” said Andrew N. C. Klein ’12.
“It was tremendously illuminating. It made me question historical fact in a direct way,” he added.