"The Atlas Group (1989-2004)" exhibition at the Reina Sofia last summer grew out of the Atlas Group project, undertaken by the Lebanese-born media artist Walid Raad with the aim of researching and documenting the contemporary history of Lebanon, particularly the war years of 1975 to 1991. The installations, videos, and photographs in the exhibition fall into three categories: documents with known sources, documents without known sources, and documents created by the Atlas Group. Taken together, they promote reflection on how history can be not only told and organized but also constructed and fabricated.
The documents are based on people’s actual recollections but also draw on cultural fantasies constructed from collective memories. Whether true or not, many of them — a series of photos showing the remains of car engines cast far and wide by explosives, a list of countries that sold weapons to the combatants, a video of townspeople watching bombs fall from the sky, notes from soldiers to their loved ones — are horrifying, damning, and unforgettable. How could anyone forget Raad’s very real photographs, taken when he was 15, of Israeli forces assaulting Beirut by land, sea, and air? Or the six large prints in the series "Secrets in the Open Sea," which were discovered in the city’s rubble and turned out, upon examination in U.S. and French labs, to be portraits of men and women found dead in the Mediterranean between 1975 and 1990?
"Walid Raad" originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of Modern Painters. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Modern Painters' November 2009 Table of Contents.