Born in 1967 in (Lebanon)
Lives and works in (Lebanon ) and in (United States )
Liste expositions


Born in 1967 in Lebanon, Walid Raad currently teaches at Cooper Union’s School of Fine Arts in New York.

Walid Raad’s work consists of texts, photography, multimedia installations, video and performances, all of which articulate an exploration of the possible representations of the war in Lebanon.  How do we remember and give it meaning?

Having started in 1975, the Lebanese war engendered physical and psychological destruction of the country and its capital, Beirut.  Because of the extreme violence experienced over the course of fighting in a country once known as the Switzerland of the Middle East, the war has become taboo, unable to be commemorated or even named.  It is not studied in schools, the first articles about it were met with controversy, each Lebanese citizen seems the keeper of their war’s history and an “official” history seems impossible to write.  Faced with these facts in 1999 Walid Raad created an imaginary foundation, The Atlas Group (Beirut/New York,, whose goal it was, as stated in the groups mission, to research and to assemble all types of documents relative to Lebanon’s contemporary history (testimonials, texts films, photographs, recordings) in order to study them and organize them into an archive in the form of works, audiovisual documents seeking to shed light on Lebanon’s recent history. 

This vast archival project grants us access to the history of the Lebanese war in the form of personal narratives and singular stories.  Walid Raad questions the nature of collective and individual history, as well as the creation of accepted historical narratives, as well as the frontiers between artistic and historical representation.  Thusly Walid Raad collects documents and organizes them in order to manipulate them and write a fictional history of the Lebanese war. 

In one of the group’s projects entitled My Neck is Thinner than a Hair: A History of the Car Bomb in the 1975-1991 Lebanese War, Walid Raad elaborates a metaphor comparing car bombs to stolen images.  This piece seeks to write a story about the 3,614 attacks by the militias in Beirut and all the large cities in Lebanon.  The car bombs become a symbol of a social phenomenon wherein each explosion becomes the focal point of media attention and of a public who experiences these events in reality as well as on television.  “When one lives in a city with daily explosions,” explains Walid Raad, “in an atmosphere of constant terror, our accepted realities change and are questioned; in particular the difference between private and public.  What tends to happen in a city like this is that the citizen decides to move, to change his schedule and as a result the normal rhythm of the city changes.  The citizen becomes a nomad or on the contrary sedentary if he decides to remain at home and no longer leave.  In the second case, he does not interact with others, and then the true meaning of the city, that is to live together, is lost. The city ceases to exist.”[i]

The spectator who is confronted by events he sees on his television is led to question his responsibility, his critical distance.  How do we stop being just consumers and spectators and become active participants of events?  Walid Raad’s project allows us to have a larger vision of the war in Lebanon and its history through personal narratives, intimate dramas, unique stories whose psychological weight proves to be of great importance for a work of memory, worthy of the title, respectful of the facts and the experiences of each individual.  Raad specifies that the “story of car bombs transmits another story as well, that of the personal manner in which this war was experienced: how those who were faced with extreme psychological and physical violence, express themselves when speaking of these experiences, how did they come to assimilate it?  When the viewer sees Raad’s work for the first time, he may think that it belongs to the realm of documentary.

In presenting his fictional material as real archives, Raad explores the shift between history and fiction.  He transforms imaginary memories into historical archives in order to question the distinction we make between these two narrative structures.

A multimedia performance/conference entitles The Loudest Muttering is Over: Case Studies From The Atlas Group Archive, created in 2000 and redone in 2007 showcases the artist’s projects.  Each subject documents one aspect of the civil war, with the help of personal journals, videos, photographs all fictional or manipulated but presented as the artist’s real archives.  The piece deals with the private and the public, where each project brings together personal archives and renders them public by the Atlas Group.

The first work presented in the context of this performance deals with Dri’s notebooks.  We imagine he would have been an important Lebanese historian who left his notebooks to the Atlas Group which contain the results of his and his colleagues’ horse race bets during the war that were in accordance with the balance between the denominational separations of Lebanese government:  the Marxists and Muslims would bet on races numbered 1 to 7, the Maronites and the Socialists on races from 8 to 15.  Raad criticizes the denominational system established by the country.  In fact the Lebanese constitution stipulated that a fixed number of national assembly seats are allocated to each religious community: 64 Christians (including both Maronites and Orthodox), 64 Muslims (with Sunnis and Shiites), and the Druze (socialists).  Likewise the President had to be Maronite, the Prime Minister Sunni and the speaker of the party Shiite.  These notebooks detail the length of the races, including photographs of the winning horses and they contain brief descriptions of the historians.  “It is important to realize that Dr. Fakhouri’s notebooks entitled ‘Missing Lebanese Wars’, deal with troubling questions about the possibilities and limits of writing a history of the recent civil war in Lebanon.  The notebook compiles the history of the Lebanese historians who bet on the races depending on their political position in Lebanon and who won based on the photo finish published in the An-Nahar newspaper.  In addition to writing about he fact that the historians categorized their bets and their wins based on their political and religious affiliations, the notebook also includes photos taken from the newspaper.  What is fascinating about these images is that the photo is always taken when the horse is just in front of or just past the finish line.   This inability to be present at the right moment poses many questions about the way we write about the history of psychologically and physically violent events that happened more than thirty years ago.”[ii]

Walid Raad by means of this work, questions the idea of an official and impartial source of information.  Indeed during the war, the various religious and political groups took the media hostage in order to push their propaganda.  He also criticizes the denominational system established in the country.  With Dr. Fakhouri’s story as a point of departure Raad highlights the difficulty of writing Lebanon’s history.

The second subject is a six-minute video entitled I Think it Would Be Better If I could Weep (2002) that would have been sent anonymously to the Atlas Group.  The video shows a series of sunsets filmed from the Corniche, a fashionable promenade in Beirut.  In regards to this video, Raad explains that in 1992 Lebanese agents installed surveillance cameras in coffee standsEach day at sunset agent 17 would turn his camera to the setting sun. When he was found out he was fired.  Nevertheless he was able to keep the videos.  During the war agent 17 l in East Beirut.  Meanwhile, a “green line”, a zone separating eastern and western Beirut controlled by various militias, kept citizens from freely going from one side of the city to the other.  And yet it was his dream to see the sun set over the sea in West Beirut.  The repetition of the sunsets echoes the traumatic experience that provoked the operator to turn his surveillance camera towards the sun. 

The third element of the performance is a video entitled Hostage: The Bachar Tapes, that relates the experience of a Lebanese hostage detained during the Western hostage crisis in Beirut, Lebanon along with four Americans.  Rather than list statistics, repeat the speeches made by political and religious leaders, or present photographs showing the disasters caused by the war, Walid Raad’s work questions the way historical narrative is constructed.   While each story on its own alone can fracture the process that allows for a global comprehension of the war, all of these stories put together help reconstitute events through memory.

The “documents” used by Raad in his works do not show what actually happened since they were created under the guise of art, but in presenting them as archives the artist invites us to consider his idea as a “theoretical reverie” on the subject of history and memory.  Transforming fiction into historical narrative Raad nullifies any opposition between these two forms.  By blurring the line between history and fiction he sublimates the importance of both the process of memory and memory itself in the elaboration of all forms of narration.  Through his work Raad explores the way we think about the reconstitution of historical events and more specifically the traumatic experiences in Lebanon.

Elodie Vouille

Translated by Silvia Sabino


[i] Interview in the review, Dits, winter 2005


[ii] Interview in the review Bomb, December 2007<SPAN lang=EN-GB style="FON