Walid Raad / The Atlas Group
Since 1999, Walid Raad has explored the fraught contemporary history of his native country through the device of a fictional archive. Under the collective banner of the Atlas Group, an imaginary research foundation based in New York and Beirut, Raad has exhibited, published, and lectured upon a growing body of photographs, texts, films, and videos that purport to chronicle Lebanon's protracted civil war of 1975–90. The documentary material that comprises the Atlas Group Archive is of dubious provenance, sourced to anonymous individuals or characters of questionable authenticity. Even when attributed to Raad himself, as in the work from this series, the documents freely blend fact and fiction in a way that suggests the highly subjective and contested nature of historical memory. Here, photographs of Beirut's bombed out and bullet-pocked infrastructure are overlaid with brightly colored dots. The accompanying text explains that the artist collected used shells embedded in buildings in Beirut in the early 1980s and catalogued their locations in his notebooks. Years later, upon discovering that arms manufacturers color code their shells, he realized that he had amassed an inventory of the devastation indirectly wrought by the seventeen countries who had supplied the various factions of the war. The actual veracity of the story is almost irrelevant; as Raad has described them, such fabricated documents—“fantasies erected from the material of collective memories”—offer the potential for communicating larger historical truths.