The many authoritative faces of Walid Raad: Thoughts from the lecture hall at the IFA

Dr. Fadl Fakhouri, "Already Been in a Lake of Fire_Notebook Volume 38," 1999. Digital color print.
1 of 9 plates, 30 x 42 cm each. Via The Atlas Group: http://www.atlasgroup.org/

My internal conversation with the work of Walid Raad began as I paged my way through a monograph of his work, entitled Scratching on Things I Could Disavow: Some Essays from The Atlas Group Project (Cologne: Walther König, 2008), before the artist’s recent lecture at the Institute of Fine Arts on February 23, 2012. A Lebanese-born artist and associate professor at The Cooper Union, Raad is perhaps best known for his work under the guise of The Atlas Group, a fictional collective founded to examine the political, social, and psychological effects of Lebanon’s Civil War through archival documentation.

This archival documentation takes on a variety of forms, ranging from photographs of Raad’s personal collection of bullets, found during his teenage years in Beirut, to reproductions of documents attributed to (fictional) figures like Dr. Fadl Faukhouri, a leading historian of the Civil War until his death in 1993. The assembled contributions of Dr. Faukhouri and others seem to treat the war somewhat objectively by focusing on minute details and empirical data. In actuality, however, they suggest both the extreme psychological effects of the war upon the Lebanese people and the concomitant difficulty of portraying this people’s experience of war. For example, notebooks in The Atlas Group archive that belonged to Dr. Faukhouri show that the historian would obsessively walk the streets of Beirut in search of intact versions of models of cars recently destroyed by car bombs. He would then photograph his finds, to document the frequency with which certain makes and models were used in these bombings.

The aforementioned monograph, Scratching on Things I Could Disavow, published on the occasion of the exhibition The Atlas Group (1989-2004): A Project by Walid Raad at Culturgest in Lisbon, contains reproductions of articles, interviews, and documents that relate to Raad’s work and to the archive formed by The Atlas Group. Following Raad’s practice of exhibiting photographs of documents and objects, rather than the documents and objects themselves, the book comprises a series of overhead scans of papers, magazines, and articles. Each is related to Raad’s oeuvre in some way, although his role in their authorship is not always immediately clear. Even when he explicitly states that the Group is an imaginary foundation, as he does often in exhibitions and lectures, he notes that his audience sometimes fails to grasp the “imaginary nature” of the Group and its documents.[1] For Raad, “this confirms to me the weighty associations with authority and authenticity of certain modes of address (the lecture, the conference) and display (the white walls of a museum or gallery, vinyl text, the picture frame), modes that I choose to lean on and play with at the same time.”[2] I would add to this list of confusingly authoritative documents the monograph he has published.

Raad’s remark sets the stage for my comments on his recent lecture at the IFA, “Scratching on Things I Could Disavow.” Continue reading “The many authoritative faces of Walid Raad: Thoughts from the lecture hall at the IFA”

Iftikhar Dadi at the IFA

Editor’s Note: This review was written directly following Iftikhar Dadi’s lecture at the Institute of Fine Arts on April 12, 2011. It has been reprinted here in its original form.

Iftikhar Dadi

On April 12, 2011, Professor Iftikhar Dadi delivered the inaugural lecture of the Colloquium on Modern and Contemporary Art from the Middle East and South Asia (MESA) at the Institute of Fine Arts. Dadi is a practicing artist and an associate professor in the Department of the History of Art at Cornell University, as well as the author of the recent Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia (University of North Carolina Press, 2010). His lecture at the IFA, entitled “Between Global Media and the Urban Subaltern,” contained three parts: first, Dadi’s take on the rhetoric surrounding modern art in South Asia and the Middle East; second, an analysis of major artists involved in the development of modernism in this region; and third, a presentation of Dadi’s own artistic collaborations with his wife, Elizabeth Dadi.

Employing Andreas Huyssen’s conception of “modernism at large,” Dadi situated artists working in South Asia during the twentieth century within a transnational Muslim modernism rather than within nationally specific modernities. He further argued that this modernism was liberating despite its Eurocentrism, positively influencing artists working in South Asia and the Middle East because it allowed them to decolonialize Islamic art. Thus they could use the visual language of Islamic art to develop a new subjectivity that was intrinsically South Asian Muslim. Dadi first discussed well-known Pakistani artist Sadequain Naqqash (1930-1987), whose paintings draw upon the Islamic tradition of calligraphy. Naqqash simultaneously aligns his work with modernist movements such as Cubism, using abstracted letterforms that obstruct a strictly narrative reading of the text. Referencing the Mughal Empire, which ruled the Indian subcontinent from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, Dadi described another Pakistani artist, Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1899-1975), as “a Mughal artist working in a time of print culture.” Chugtai’s paintings make use of imagery similar to that of traditional Mughal miniatures, creating a subjectivity based on historical precursors as well as on the contemporary intellectual scene.
Continue reading “Iftikhar Dadi at the IFA”