Artist interview, Walid Raad: a mediator between worlds
The artist challenges historical narratives in his Islamic-inspired show at the Louvre this month
By Louisa Buck. Features, Issue 242, January 2012
Published online: 15 January 2013
The art of Walid Raad uses the language and procedures of museums and academia—the archive, the slide show, the PowerPoint presentation, the wall-mounted information panel, the documentary photograph—to exude an air of informative authority. In his illustrated lectures and his multimedia installations this month at the Louvre, and, among other places, at the 2002 Whitney Biennial, the 2003 Venice Biennale, Documentas 11 and 13 and London’s Whitechapel Gallery, the 45-year-old artist comes across as a scholarly researcher-historian, examining the recent history of his native Lebanon and, over the past five years, the forging of art history in the context of the new art institutions proliferating in the Arab world.
In his latest project, Raad, who divides his time between Beirut and New York, where he is associate professor of art at the Cooper Union, continues to assume the role of a documenter and assembler of information and artefacts. “Walid Raad: Preface to the First Edition”, his new show in the Louvre’s Salle de la Maquette (19 January-8 April), consists of a video, a sculptural installation and a publication. They each take as their starting point the museum’s new department of Islamic art and its collection of 18,000 objects, some of which are destined to be loaned to the new Louvre in Abu Dhabi.
“These works are part of a larger, ongoing project that proceeds from the acceleration in the building of this new infrastructure for the arts in the Gulf, particularly in Abu Dhabi and Qatar,” Raad says, speaking on the telephone from his studio in New York. “I don’t know that much about Islamic art. All this is very new to me, but some of these objects I see in the display in the Louvre and at the Met—their lines, their forms and their colours—have been very productive for me. I saw the opening for a new kind of concept, a new creative act.”
This new concept manifests itself in Raad’s video, which features 28 Islamic artefacts from the Louvre that have been earmarked for its Jean Nouvel-designed sister museum on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. The video revolves around Raad’s notion that, “when these objects travel overseas, they will change in ways that are more insidious than the curators, conservators or museum directors could have predicted”. It is the story of these altered objects—how they have changed and why—that comprises Raad’s documentary film and the accompanying book, Preface to the Third Edition. “One person will be convinced that the objects themselves have changed and that change will only appear in certain photographs that this person will make,” he says.