Double Trouble: Parafictional Personas and Contemporary Art

Kate Warren


Across the news and entertainment media there is a phenomenon that is increasingly prevalent: actors, performers and artists who play “versions of themselves”. This paper explores the entertaining and critical potentials of this strategy, which I term “parafictional personas”. I draw upon Carrie Lambert-Beatty’s theorisation of the parafictional as a critical mode that has developed out of (and in tension with) the “historiographic turn”. Parafictional personas are a specific iteration, characterised by two key components: they compulsively imbue every opportunity with layers of interconnections and self-reflexive moments; and they involve artists and performers appropriating their own “proper name”, constructing fictionalised doubles of themselves. While found widely across media, my central focus is contemporary visual art, analysing two key examples, Israeli–American artist Omer Fast and Lebanese artist Walid Raad.

These artists are significant because their personas are not simply means of performing themselves as individuals; they are integrated into the ways the artists approach contentious, still unfolding events of contemporary history. Parafictional personas have the potential to thoroughly embed fictional constructs within reality, because of the difficulties in separating elements represented by the same proper name. Their critical potential lies in the ways that they make visible the difficulties of maintaining clear distinctions between historical and fictional, social and individual narratives. Parafictional personas confound cultural desires to order, categorise and “make sense” of historical narratives. They reveal how much we as viewers (and societies) search for ideas of truth and resolution, even if such truths are presented as incomplete, questionable or irresolvable.


Parafiction; Contemporary Art; Contemporary History; Omer Fast; Walid Raad

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