The Portrait Room. Portrait#4: Walid Sadek

Walid Sadek talks about art and political through non-obstructive pieces and is a careful kind person.


I do not fictionalize, I theorize the real.
Walid Sadek is a Beirut-based Lebanese artist and writer born in 1966, mostly known for his last works – such as Love is Blind (2006), The Labour of Missing (2011) or The Wreck of Hope and the Other Side of Impatience (2012) – and for having been one of the artists who represented Lebanon at the Venice Biennial 2007. He is surely one of the names coming to our minds if we think of Lebanese artists and intellectuals (together with Ziad Abillama, Bilal Khbeiz, Akram Zaatari, Walid Raad, and not many others).

As he states, his work proposes a poetics for a sociality governed by the logic of a protracted civil war and searches for a critical temporality to challenge that same protractedness.
After starting as a visual artist in late 90′s, he had a four years-long grinding halt from art, due to the beginning of his career as professor, at the American University of Beirut, Department of Architecture & Design, and writer. In 2005, he started again making art, and the shift in his approach is quite visible: the works he realised after this pause are essentially connected to his practice as a writer and reducted to what is strictly necessary. The essay form of writing prompts him to produce conceptual art. Why? Because, Walid says, the text stays inside the page, uncapable of investing the space. Art is a way to carry the responsability of form by visualizing the text and to be more rigorous.

His works tries to articulate the conditions of living in protracted civil-war, through conceptualization and theory. His reflection could be seen as a form of calm reaction. The result lies in the blank space of a page: a white soft space for discussion, interpretation, involvement. His art requires an effort and asks the viewer to fill up the white spaces. It attempts to articulate the impossible.

He does not want to know, to share survivors’ memory. No need to go and search for them, talk with them, investigate their memories, antropologically. He raises awareness, but not as an activist. To think and theorize is his way to stay alive, a quiet protest against political conditions in Lebanon. To stand above the ruins and poeticize.

In Lebanon, he says, you lose each day. Beirut is pushing you away everyday, you have to resist in order to stay. And I do believe art is his way to resist and to abstract the brutality of reality. Not escaping into fiction, but rather giving it a theoretical interpretation and attention. Loss can generate something else, have a generative power. Loss is necessary to begin the ruin. For every figure to be visible, you need a background. Once you have it, you can extract a figure that can change the background again.

He declares that appearence is made of absence. He chooses absence rather than presence, and to think from facility to difficulty and beyond, till impossibility, where “you can really start thinking”.

Coming back to life in Lebanon, a reconstruction is possible, and is made out of the ruins that only survivors can build up for their next, with the unwelcome knowledge they are carrying.

A knowledge that cannot be gathered except at the cost of living under it: as the Trojan prince Aeneas does, under his father Anchises’ weight (From when Aeneas bears Anchises, 2010). The survivor cannot not bear the weight of his knowledge because in fact he is formed by this knowledge. Moreover, the load cannot be simply divulged. Witnessing is difficult in Lebanon.

« When framed as a posthumous figure, or that which lives on in spite of its death, the survivor is an impediment to the reconstruction of society along normative guidelines. But the persistent conditions of protracted civil-war in Lebanon call for a re-conceptualization of the figure of the survivor along another temporal axis. No longer posthumous, the survivor is not an over-liver but rather a witness who knows too much carrying an unwelcome but necessary knowledge. »

Walid Sadek tries to release the possibilities of a dynamic and critical forgetting and theorize another conception of the ruin. Ruin and monument are not opposed terms, they overlap sometimes, but there is a strong difference between them: while a monument is a tool for commemoration, ruins open up a time to come and go into memory. Forgetting, as he considers it, is a non-linear remembering.

“In Lebanon, forgetting is prohibited. This prohibition takes on the form of various exhortations to remember, archive and commemorate. These exhortations to commemorate seek to fix what is considered necessary to remember rather than open history into a field where forgetting – or, in other words, a non-vengeful remembrance- can actively develop.”

And it’s a hard work to forget.


Useful links I went through to get ready for this interview:

Walid Sadek’s exhibition at Beirut Art Center:

Walid Raad’s “On Walid Sadek’s Love Is Blind:

His Wikipedia page:

His “On the Labour of Missing” (2011) on Fillip magazine #17.

But mostly I profited of working on his solo exhibition “The Labour of Ruin” at erg’s gallery in Brussels, his conference “The Ruin to Come” at WIELS–Walid-Sadek, and some of his theoretical texts


Saturday 19/10/2013, 20°c, Charli bakery in Sainte-Catherine, Brussels

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by Michela Alessandrini
in The Portrait Room

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