Because although Walid Raad says it "was in some ways made possible by the wars in Lebanon", his Miraculous Beginnings exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery isn't yet another war dispatch from the frontlines, but a consideration of the effects wreaked upon art by war. Raad's first retrospective spans three decades of war from the 1980s in Lebanon, an undertaking that reveals Raad as two parts artist and one part historian of a country under nearly-constant siege for the better part of the last half century. My neck is thinner than a hair: Engines compiles 100 old photos of the leftover engines from car bombs, the only piece of the car left intact after a detonation. Already been in a lake of fire is a kind of scrapbook containing 145 cut-outs corresponding to the exact make of every kind of car used as a car bomb in Lebanon from 1975 - 1991, accompanied by casualty figures and other details of each bombing. For Let's be honest the weather helped, Raad photographed bullet-ridden Beirut streets in black and white, placing coloured dots over the bullet holes which correspond to the manufacturer and shell size of every bullet. "It took me 25 years to realize that my notebooks had all along catalogued the 23 countries that had armed or sold ammunitions to the various militias and armies fighting the Lebanese wars," says Raad. Interlacing photo portraits of women and airy seasides with mortar-filled streetscapes, Miraculous Beginnings is less about Beirut and more about a place that, once the bombs had dropped, was familiar and yet fundamentally changed at the same time. And in the same way a bullet-ripped building can never be the same again, so too with art - and perhaps artists - from a reality scarred by war.
Whitechapel Gallery, 15 October - 02 January