How fact and fiction gain currency, how history is written, and who writes it are some of the ideas explored in this piece by Walid Raad.
WALID RAAD: My name is Walid Raad. I am an artist and a teacher. I live and work between Beirut and New York City. And I was born in Lebanon, in Beirut.
This work is one fragment from the project titled The Atlas Group. The Atlas Group seeks or produces documents, photographic, literary, or other, that shed light on the contemporary history of Lebanon. The archive is composed of numerous documents that are attributed to various characters. Some of the characters are even imaginary.
The character in question here is presented as a renowned historian who upon his death in 1993 donated notebooks, photographs, and films to The Atlas Group for preservation and display. These are images that he produced of himself in 1958 and 1959, during his one and only trip outside of Lebanon to Paris and to Rome.
Lebanon was under French mandate from the 1920s to the 1940s. So here we see this trip as a kind of reflection on this kind of colonial history that Western Europe had with the Middle East. So the idea of Civilizationally, We Do Not Dig Holes to Bury Ourselves refers back to the civilizing mission by which we are asked to join the world in a particular way that had less to do with who we are, than who others wanted us to be.
The historian’s name, Dr. Fadl Fakhouri, would not be necessarily recognized as a Christian name, or as a Muslim name. Numerous stories are circulated by The Atlas Group about this actual individual. He is an actor who has been recruited to play this role. Others have postulated that it is one of The Atlas Group member’s father who took these pictures in 1958 and 59. We don't seek to clarify that point.
The man is not only not looking at the camera. He is also not looking at the objects in front of which he is standing. I mean he is under the Eiffel Tower, and decides to pick a pair of binoculars and look away. He is almost saying, "I am going to look away because I don't think history is here." And in a sense, giving us an opening to think about how to write the history of contemporary Lebanon. Should we look for it in the historical monuments and the ruins? Or should we look for it elsewhere?
FERESTEH DAFTARI: The wall text accompanying the photographs was written by The Atlas Group, namely Walid Raad himself. Mimicking the graphic design used elsewhere in the museum, it appears as the voice of the institution.