Category Archives: Curation

Walid Raad’s I Was Overcome By A Momentary Panic At The Thought That They Might Be Right: Documents From The Nassar Files in The Atlas Group Archive

Walid Raad’s I Was Overcome By A Momentary Panic At The Thought That They Might Be Right: Documents From The Nassar Files in The Atlas Group Archive

by Amanda Graham

The stories we tell ourselves to get over things
can have nothing to do with what really happened.

– Walid Raad

It is impossible for any of us to witness all events as they happen. Rarely, can we say, “I was there.” The visual aftermath of events, therefore, becomes our way of knowing what we did not see and what we never experienced. The traces left behind are not the end, but the beginning, of a fascinating, albeit, incomplete story. Then again, no story is ever complete. Walid Raad knows this and so do I.

Walid Raad

Walid Raad

In 2004 I was a Master’s student at York University in Toronto. That Fall Raad had his exhibition, I Was Overcome By A Momentary Panic At The Thought That They Might Be Right: Documents From The Nassar Files in The Atlas Group Archive, at the on-campus Art Gallery. I stopped in to check it out following an afternoon class. What I remember: Photographs of engines. Lots of them. From cars that might have been blown up in Lebanon. Pock marks left in the earth. People standing around watching. Handwritten notations about time, place, and how far the engines flew. Evident trauma. Evidence of trauma.

While I understood Raad’s work was as much fiction as it was fact I left the gallery with the feeling of turmoil in my belly, and an understanding that Raad’s artistic historicity communicates the reality that war leaves its mark on the landscape. The catastrophe and its subsequent recovery are both at play in the shrapnel.

As I contemplated Raad’s engines on the subway ride home the lights went out. The train lost power and came to a halt between stations. Passengers began to quietly speculate. A few minutes later an emergency crew arrived and a few minutes after that a woman with singed arms and ripped jeans was hoisted into the car where I sat. She was alive and conscious, but it was obvious from her condition that she had jumped into the tracks. The evidence of her act was written all over her body. After we arrived at St. Claire Station the woman was whisked off onto a stretcher and then toward the sound of sirens. A student-type to my right and an older man carrying groceries next to her quietly wondered if she could have fallen, or worse, been pushed. All we could deduce arose from the visual clues she provided: the marks on her skin and clothes. She displayed the evidence of the act we conjectured upon her body. She probably would forever—in the form of scars.

Every time I tell the story of the woman jumping in front of the subway it is a little different. Sometimes I mention she had dyed blonde hair, other times I don’t. Over the years, the story has become less factual, as my memory of it has faded and I continue to add details to keep listener interest. I am sure that the woman with the dyed blonde hair has told the story of that day more than once as well, or at least she has told some sort of story to explain the burns on her arms.

In 2006 I began writing about scars because I was, at the time, working in a community where people seemed to be covered with more than their fair share. Writing about scars brought me back to the day of the subway incident, and also Raad’s car bomb photographs, each absent of car bombs and full of holes in the ground. It occurred to me that both the landscape and the body are littered with traces of encounter; they hold onto what our memories cannot, or choose not. For me, these are planes of investigation, sites of overlooked visuality, and the narratives I want to pursue.

When I learned that Raad received his PhD from the University of Rochester I began to look into applying because I believed the lens through which he and I looked at the visual world was somehow cut from the same glass. I wanted to find a program where I could consider trauma and healing, the stories we tell ourselves to keep going and those we tell others, and scars on the landscape and the body. I wanted to figure out an approach to narrative that lends equal weight to fiction as it does to fact. I wanted to tell stories, like Raad, about the things we aren’t so sure, but are absolutely positive.

Amanda Graham is a second year Visual and Cultural Studies student. She is a former public school art teacher, community organizer, and activist. Her current research interests include scars, trauma narratives, and contemporary community based art initiatives.

Walid Raad is an artist and Associate Professor at the Cooper Union School of Art. In 1999, Raad founded the Atlas Group, an imaginary foundation to research and document the contemporary history of Lebanon. His work has been exhibited at The International Center of Photography, Documenta 11, and the 2003 Venice Biennale. Raad received his Ph.D. from VCS in 1996.

Kathleen McEnery: Mood 1927

Kathleen McEnery 1

Kathleen McEnery: Mood, 1927
(Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester)

By Janet Wolff

This is as good an image to talk about as any. It’s the first work I came across by the American artist Kathleen McEnery (1888-1971). I included it in a small exhibition I curated at the Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, in 1995, of images of women, as part of a larger project celebrating the 75th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the U.S. After that I became interested in her work and life. Through contact with her family (her son Peter – the only one of her three children still alive at the time, though he died in 2003 – and twelve of her many grandchildren) I was able to see more than a hundred and twenty of her paintings. With the invaluable help of Lucy Curzon, then a graduate student in VCS, I curated an exhibition of her work at the Hartnett Gallery in 2003, and later helped Nanette Salomon curate another McEnery exhibition at the Gallery of the College of Staten Island, in April 2005. And later that year McEnery was included in a major exhibition of the “new women” art students of Robert Henri at Brigham Young University Museum of Art; her self-portrait featured on the cover of the catalogue.

Kathleen McEnery 2

Kathleen McEnery 3

Kathleen McEnery 4

McEnery studied in New York with Henri; had two paintings included in the famous 1913 Armory Show; and was also included in the 1987 inaugural exhibition of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. Between those dates, and since, she has remained more or less invisible on the national and international scene. She moved to Rochester on her marriage to the wealthy car and carriage manufacturer, Francis Cunningham, in 1914, and was central to the social and cultural life of the upper middle class in the city in the first half of the twentieth century. The MAG owns a few of her works:

Woman in an Ermine Collar
Fritz Trautmann

And there’s a lovely portrait of her friend (another Rochester grande dame) Charlotte Whitney Allen at R.I.T.: Woman seated

(and two other portraits of Allen on display, in the Eastman Theatre and in the MAG library).

Finding McEnery meant that I spent much of my last year in Rochester (2000-2001) learning a good deal about George Eastman’s city – a great cultural centre in the 1920s and 1930s. I wrote an essay about McEnery in my book AngloModern (2003), with a still life of hers on the cover. Now I’m writing something in a more personal vein about the people I learned about during that period of research, some of whom I interviewed when they were in their 90s.

Janet Wolff: I was Director of VCS from 1991 to 2001. Before that, I taught at the University of Leeds (UK) for fifteen years. In 2001 I went to Columbia University, where I was Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the School of the Arts. In 2006 I moved back to England, and am now Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts at the University of Manchester (so I’m also back in my home town). My two most recent books are AngloModern: Painting and Modernity in Britain and the United States (2003) and The Aesthetics of Uncertainty (2008). Now I’m writing a book which is a combination of memoir, family history, and cultural history, with photos, facsimile documents, paintings and other images.