Expanding on my interest in “other modernisms”, today we are in Lebanon.
It’s in Beirut that in 1916, Saloua Raouda Choucair was born and lived her whole life.
Painter, sculptor, designer (creating jewellery, textiles and furniture) and writer, her career and production are vast, but nearly unknown outside her country.
Nurturing a strong interest in the sciences (she had a degree in Natural Sciences), Choucair explored the possibilities of many materials over the years: wood, bronze, clay, aluminium, terracotta. From this ability with materials, she emphasized organic, interlocking forms and compositions.
Modern and Arabic
After a visit to Egypt in 1943, she became fascinated with Arabic art, architecture and its geometric designs. Besides that, Arabic poetry and calligraphy are also reflected in the structure of her work.
At the end of the 1940s, Choucair went to Paris to study and was both exposed and involved with the abstraction movements.
Back in Lebanon, she continued to explore form and the essential in art. A famous quote from her article-manifesto “How the Arab Understood Visual Art” states her thinking:
“The Arab never took much interest in visible, tangible reality, or the truth that every human sees. Rather, he took his search for beauty to the essence of the subject, extracting it from all the adulterations that had accumulated in art since the time of the [Ancient] Greeks…”
Ahead of her time, she was underappreciated because she refused to reproduce the Orientalist views that were praised in Lebanon around the 1950s, pursuing instead, art that was modern and Arabic.
In 2013, she became the first Arabic artist to have a major exhibition of her work organized by Tate Modern in London.
She never stopped working from her studio in Beirut even during the war years. She died at 100 years old in 2017.
To know more:
Choucair’s entry at the Mathaf Encyclopedia of Modern Art and the Arab World contains further reading, bibliography and more.
Watch the short documentary “Saloua” directed by Sami Shukayr, where Hala Choucair (Choucair’s daughter) talks about her mother’s life and work:
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Have a great week!