Art, Museums, and the Middle East

Walid Raad and Kaja Silverman in conversation about critical and aesthetic engagements with arts institutions and organizations in the "Arab World"


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Politics / Economics
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Department of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania


Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award/Kaja Silverman

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought is pleased to announce "Art, Museums, and the Middle East," a conversation with Walid Raad and Kaja Silverman on Tuesday, April 5, 2016 from 6:30-8:30pm about critical and aesthetic engagements with arts institutions and organizations in the "Arab World," including his ongoing project Scratching on things I could disavow (2007-).

Walid Raad is a Lebanese artist who makes videos, installations, photographs and sculptures, and whose work frequently has a performance component. From 1989-2004, Raad produced fictionalized photographs, videotapes, notebooks, and lectures that related to real events and involved authentic research in audio, film, and photographic archives in Lebanon, under the rubric of "The Atlas Group," an imaginary collective.

Raad's recent work has expanded to address the Middle East region at large. His current project, "Scratching on things I could disavow," examines the recent emergence in the Arab world of a new infrastructure for the visual arts—art fairs, biennials, museums, and galleries—alongside the geopolitical, economic, and military conflicts that have consumed the region. He is also part of the Gulf Labor Artist Coalition, an international group working to ensure that migrant worker rights are protected during the construction of museums on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi.

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"In 2007 I initiated a project, Scratching on things I could disavow, on the history of art in the "Arab World." I began the project at the same time that the establishment of new cultural foundations, art galleries, art schools, art magazines, art prizes, art fairs, and large Western-brand museums was accelerating in cities such as Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Beirut, Cairo, Doha, Manama, Ramallah, and others. These material developments were matched by equally fraught efforts to define, sort, stitch "Arab art" along three loosely silhouetted notes: "Islamic," "modern," and "contemporary." When viewed alongside the political, economic, social, and military conflicts that have consumed the "Arab world" in the past few decades, such developments shape a rich yet thorny ground for creative work.

The artworks and stories I present in this project concentrate on some of the stories, forms, lines, and colors made available by these developments, especially when they are screened alongside Jalal Toufic's concept of "the withdrawal of tradition past a surpassing disaster." I have so far produced two main chapters, each composed of several works.

Scratching on things I could disavow: Walkthrough chronicles some of the encounters that drove me to engage with the history of art in the "Arab World" in the first place: an invitation to join the Dubai branch of the Artist Pension Trust; the development of Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi; the opening of the Sfeir-Semler Gallery in Beirut, and the subsequent shrinking of my works; my "communication" with artists from the future; artworks that have lost their reflections and shadows; and the effects of the wars in Lebanon on colors, lines, and forms.

Scratching on things I could disavow: Les Louvres relates to my ongoing study of "Islamic art." More specifically, I present works that emerged out of my two-year exploration of the Louvre's newly established Département des Arts de l'Islam, its archives and new exhibition spaces. This encounter with "Islamic arts" in the Louvre in Paris was also animated by the emergence of a new Louvre in Abu Dhabi."

-- Walid Raad, 2015

Kaja Silverman is the Sachs Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, and the author of many books, including, most recently, The Miracle of Analogy, or: The History of Photography, Part I (2015). At Slought, she recently curated Edgelands (2013), an installation by Knut Asdam exploring architecture and cinema at the conjunction of the personal, the paranoiac, and the public.