Better be watching the clouds
May 18 – June 30, 2023
Paula Cooper Gallery
521 W 21st Street, NYC
NEW YORK CITY | Paula Cooper Gallery has installed a new series of work by the Lebanon-born Conceptual artist Walid Raad entitled “Better be watching the clouds (2000/2017).” The presentation includes a selection of 15 plates from the series, on view from May 18 through June 30 at 521 West 21st Street.
The plates in “Better be watching the clouds” show pages from a book of flora native to the Middle East where the heads of political leaders involved in, or contemporary with, the Lebanese Civil War appear as efflorescences. Its brightly colored blossoms budding with black and white photos of politicians recall the history of political critique and photomontage by artists such as Hannah Höch and John Heartfield.
Raad’s index catalogs an extensive collection of players including
- Muammar Gaddafi (Libya)
- Margaret Thatcher (UK),
- Anwar Sadat (Egypt),
- Hosni Mubarak (Egypt),
- Saddam Hussein (Iraq),
- Jimmy Carter (USA),
- Ronald Reagan (USA),
- François Mitterrand (France),
- Mikhail Gorbachev (Soviet Union),
- Yasser Arafat (Palestine),
- King Hussein of Jordan,
- Ayatollah Khomeini (Iran),
- Ali Khamenei (Iran),
- Menachem Begin (Israel),
- Yitzhak Shamir (Israel),
- Shafik Wazzan (Lebanon),
- Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (UAE),
- Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah (Kuwait)
The series is accompanied by wall text that reads: “The following plates were donated to The Atlas Group in 2000. The anonymous donation came in a box labeled with the following words: Comrade leader, Comrade leader, you’d better be watching the clouds.”
Among the facts the art is built on, though they go unmentioned, are details of the artist’s life. He was born in Lebanon in 1967 and left that country as a high school teenager to escape what would be more than a decade and half of continuous warfare, with invasions by Israel and Syria and endlessly splintered sectarian conflicts. (Muslim versus Christian, Sunni versus Shiite, and so on.) Thousands of Lebanese died; more than a million were displaced. Beirut, the most beautiful of Mediterranean cities, was ruined.
Raad continued his education in the United States, focusing on photography and Middle Eastern studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and then on postcolonial theory in a doctoral program at the University of Rochester, where he completed a dissertation based partly on writing by American and European hostages held in Lebanon in the 1980s during the country’s civil wars. Those years and wars became the subject of his first body of work
About Walid Raad
For over 25 years, Walid Raad (b. 1967, Lebanon) has created work that explores the ways in which events of physical and psychological violence affect bodies, minds, and culture.
His work has been shown in numerous international exhibitions, including Documenta 11 and 13 (2002 and 2012), the Istanbul Biennial (2015), the first Vienna Biennale (2015), the Whitney Biennial (2000 and 2002), and the 2003 and 2015 Venice Biennale, among others. Raad has had one-person exhibitions at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2006), the Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid (2009), the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2010), Museo Tamayo, Mexico City (2011), Carré d’Art, Nîmes and MADRE Napoli (both 2014).
In 2015, Raad was the subject of a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, that traveled to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, and Museo Jumex, Mexico City. He is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes including the 2007 Alpert Award from CalArts, the 2011 Hasselblad Award, and the 2016 Infinity Award in Art from the International Center of Photography.
Raad currently lives in New York City where he teaches in The Cooper Union’s School of Art. He is also a member of Ashkal Alwan’s Home Workspace in Beirut, and the Gulf Labor Coalition.