Walid Raad: Sweet Talk: Commissions (Beirut)
Walid Raad is a Lebanon-born and New York-based artist whose work investigates the ways that history is remembered and represented. He makes use of archives and photographs in the public realm and questions aspects of veracity and meaning in the context of ongoing wars in the Middle East. Raad is well-known for The Atlas Group (1989-2004), a fifteen-year project which borrows from the genres of literary fiction and conceptual photography.
In this exhibition, the artist presents works from three distinct series, each combining text with found or made photographs. Works from Sweet Talk: Commissions (Beirut) consist of streetscapes of the city found in a book, annotated with hand-written inscriptions in English and Arabic. The black-and-white images are brought to life by the language, which includes statements like, "In 1976 or 1977, and around the corner from this building, a militiaman teaches me how to fire a rifle, launch a grenade, and graffiti anti-Palestinian slogans. I remember him laughing the whole time."
Festival of Gratitude documents a fantasy the artist claims to have had while working as a teenage photographer in a pastry shop in Beirut. Should he poison the birthday and celebration cakes he understood as being made to celebrate adored and/or despised world leaders?
The Bleeding Stomach offers the story of Chef Ramza, Lebanon's most beloved chef and cookbook author. Known to be an avowed pacifist, she traveled all over the country hosting lavish dinners for fighting militias in the hope that their common foods might unite them. But just in case this optimism failed, she flavored her dishes with various hallucinogens to reset their brains.
How are violence and trauma normalized? How does one navigate profound anxiety and sadness while attempting to maintain hope? Raad consistently finds intelligent and empathetic ways of posing such questions, and in light of the horrific recent events taking place in Israel and Gaza, his exhibition could not be more relevant.
Walid Raad has had one-person exhibitions at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His work is in the collections of the Walker Art Center, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Centre Pompidou, among others.
In association with the exhibition, Raad will discuss his work on February 16 as one of the 2024 speakers in the Robert C. May Photography Lecture Series.
Walid Raad, Sweet Talk: Commissions (Beirut) _ Streetscapes, 1991-95. Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.
Walid Raad/The Atlas Group, Festival of Gratitude: Omar, 2003 (printed 2021), inkjet print on Luster Paper Epson Premium. @ Walid Raad. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: Steven Probert.