Confronted with the SARS-CoV-2 crisis, we had to cancel the 25th edition of the festival in May 2020, including this project.

Fishing for documents: Case Studies from the Atlas Archive / The Dead Weight of a Quarrel Hangs


Fishing for Documents: Case Studies from the Atlas Archive
5, 26/05 > 12:00
16/05 > 20:30
Palais des Beaux-Arts/Paleis voor Schone Kunsten
24/05 > 12:00
Bibliothèque Solvay Bibliotheek
Language: EN
[klokje]: 1:00


The Dead Weight of a Quarrel Hangs
4/05 > 20:00
5-26/05 > du mercredi au samedi/van woensdag tot zondag/Wednesday to Sunday > 13:00-19:00

Can the present be constructed on amnesia? In 1991, the battling forces that had maintained the Lebanon in a state of war and bloodshed for 15 years laid down their weapons. The cost of the civil war was hundreds of thousands of dead, even more injured, a third of the population in exile, the towns, ports and countryside devastated. Now is the time for peace and prosperity, and the country is starting with a clean slate. Yet how can a lasting peace be built when the trauma of the past is being suppressed? The Atlas Group records the strange ‘hysterical’ documents of the war – its symptoms. Representing this Lebanese group in New York, Walid Ra’ad is coming to present this remarkable series of photos and videos in the form of an installation and a reading that puts them in context.


Concept: The Atlas Group

Texte/Tekst/Text: Maha Traboulsi, Fadl Fakhouri, Walid Ra’ad

De/Van/By: Walid Ra’ad

Production/Productie/Production: The Atlas Group

Avec le soutien partiel de/Deels gesteund door/Partially funded by: C-hundred Film Corp. (New York City), Jerome Foundation (New York City), The Massachussets Humanities Council (Boston), The Boston Film and Video Foundation, The Beirut Video Foundation, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Lebanon, The VideoNoise and Culture Institute of Beirut, Ayloul Festival (Beirut), Ashkal Alwan (Beirut), KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

Présentation/Presentatie/Presentation: KunstenFESTIVALdesArts, Société des Expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts/Vereniging voor Tentoonstellingen van het Paleis voor Schone Kunsten (Bruxelles/Brussel)


Concept: The Atlas Group

Production/Productie/Production: The Atlas Group (Beirut/New York City), Fakhouri Fund for Historical Research (Beirut), Société des Expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts/Vereniging voor Tentoonstellingen van het Paleis voor Schone Kunsten (Bruxelles/Brussel), KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

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In 1991, following the Taif agreements signed in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon's warring parties surrendered their arms and started to work together peacefully within the framework of a revised constitution. The agreements heralded a sense of optimism and hope among the Lebanese, one that was soon shattered by the continued fighting in South Lebanon, and by the realities of a post-war economy.

The Lebanese civil war has imposed and continues to impose a heavy toll on the country and its people; hundreds of thousands of people died and many more were injured since the fighting started in 1975. One third of Lebanon's population left the country, taking with it valuable minds, energies, and capital. The wars between 1975 and 1990 heavily damaged Lebanon's cities, ports, and countryside. By 1991, Lebanon's economy was burdened by high unemployment, a virtually non-existent infrastructure, a devastated national industry, a radically devalued currency, and high inflation. Fighting in South Lebanon and a stalled comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace process continue to frighten away much needed foreign investment and economic confidence in the region. Needless to say, this is far from the peace that most Lebanese subjects had imagined when the Taif agreements were signed in 1991. Nevertheless, this continues to be an extremely important and complex time in Lebanon's history. This complexity is nowhere more apparent than in the post-war reconstruction zeal in the Lebanese capital. In today's Beirut, reconstruction, reconciliation, and revival are still the dominant motifs proclaiming an officially sanctioned yet unstable end to the Lebanese civil war. The 1993 official Lebanese worldwide call for proposals to reconstruct the devastated Souks (downtown) area of Beirut was met with 818 proposals, all offering models to shape and erect a new Levantine capital, and all seeking in one way or another to manage and contain the violence of the previous years. The new era of reconstruction is thus a time when a variety of intra/inter-national efforts are seeking to erase and displace any traces of the country's recent violent history. What is at stake in the reconstruction of Beirut is how the civil war is being contained and made sense of. What is at stake is in fact Lebanon's contemporary history itself.

Walid Ra'ad was born in 1967 into a family from Chbanieh, a village in Mount Lebanon. He was eight years old when civil war broke out in Beirut between Christian and Palestinian, Muslim and Druze militias. The ongoing conflicts forced the family to move to Paris for a year in 1976 and then again in 1978. The 1982 Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon, and the subsequent military and geo-political complications that followed Israel's retreat in 1983 from Mount Lebanon forced Walid to leave Beirut in September 1983 to pursue his studies in the United States.

Initially focussed on becoming a doctor, Walid Ra'ad soon turned to photography, studying for 4 years at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York State, and for another 6 years at the University of Rochester where he completed a doctorate in Visual and Cultural Studies in 1996. This 13-year academic period was also for Walid an opportunity to reflect on his own identity as an Arab, a middle class Lebanese subject living in the United States, and to explore his own family's history, his Christian father, his Palestinian mother, his maternal grandparents expelled from Palestine in 1948, settling in Beirut until 1975 before fleeing for Jordan. His investigation of photography as a historical and critical discourse, and his extended residence in the United States also led to his examination of the images of Lebanon and of the Lebanese civil wars that had been blanketing the Western and Arab mass media since 1975. Since then Walid Ra'ad has not stopped questioning the relation between the available and the obliterated memories and images of his own past and of the Lebanese civil wars.

In 1993 he returned to Beirut for a year with Jayce Salloum to film and interview prisoners held in Southern Lebanon (Up to the South). Fascinated by the photographic and historical works of Marville and Atget in Paris, he photographed his capital city being rebuilt – a wall photographed one day was no longer there the next, every shot he took invalidated the last. He read Walter Benjamin's On Some Motifs in Baudelaire which led him to Bergson (the human being consciously chooses the object that opens up his past), before being guided towards Proust and Remembrance of Things Past (the recovery of memory is hastened by an accidental confrontation with an inanimate object, such as the commonplace madeleine). Benjamin also led him to Freud and to his method of deciphering in the unconscious what is stubbornly repressed.

During this year, Walid Ra'ad met Maha Traboulsi, a Lebanese artist with who had formed the Atlas Group in 1976 and which Walid represents today. Maha had formed the Atlas Group in order to address some of the unexamined dimensions of the Lebanese civil wars of 1975 and 1976 and in order to challenge the reductive and dominant geo-political analyses of the on-going conflicts. Inspired by the concept of the hysterical symptom in psychoanalysis and by trauma research in the humanities, she set about detecting the hysterical symptoms of the civil wars as they were manifest in Lebanon's audio-visual culture. She repeatedly stated that: "We have to discover, in the sense that we have to invent the stories that will convincingly establish in popular minds a link between the detected hysterical symptoms and the traumatic events and situations that have produced such symptoms. We have to integrate these traumatic events into the associative chain of meaning in language, and as such to diffuse their affective power to disrupt our healthy functioning."

This is how the Atlas Group began. The work it did behind the scenes and that was concerned with the Lebanese civil wars – collecting evidence from archives, photos and film – was concretised in an on-going project titled The Dead Weight of a Quarrel Hangs. Maha produced audio-visual installations and developed and performed tirelessly her signature presentation titled Fishing for Documents: Case Studies from the Atlas Archive. Exhausted and demoralised after 15 years, Maha Traboulsi found in Walid Ra'ad in 1992 a kindred spirit to whom she entrusted the activities of The Atlas Group.

The Atlas archive currently includes hundreds of documents that range from historical notebooks to films, photographs and videotapes. In 1996, the Atlas Group received its largest and most significant collection of documents to date, 91 notebooks and 2 short films from the estate of Fadl Fakhouri, the pre-eminent historian of the Lebanese civil wars. After the historian's death in 1993, his wife, Zainab Fakhouri, found among her husband's papers the ‘odd’ notebooks and films. She donated them to The Atlas Group in 1996. Of the 91 notebooks, only three have been examined so far. The examined notebooks are fascinating in their approach to historical inquiry and are a perfect compliment to The Atlas Group's mission. They offer fantastic explorations of the concepts and discourses of history, trauma, civil war, photography, video, writing, documentary, evidence, and testimony. They also confirm Maha Traboulsi's central dictum that "the images of reality that capture our attention and belief appeal as much to reason as they do to language and to the unconscious."

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