Lebanese artist Saloua Raouda Choucair featured in Shubbak Festival 2013 – A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture. This exhibition brings Choucair’s work outside of Lebanon for the first time in over 50 years, and runs from 17 April 2013 to 20 October 2013 at Tate Modern, Southbank, London.
Saloua Raouda Choucair’s show at Tate Modern spans her career since the 1940s to present day and includes paintings, architecture, sculpture, jewellery and design work which express her interests in Islamic art, poetry, mathematics and science.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1916, Choucair’s art career began in the ’40s under the tutelage of prominent Lebanese artists Mustafa Farroukh and Omar Onsi. She quickly developed an interest in abstract work, inspired by Islamic art she saw in Cairo, Egypt in the early ’40s before continuing her studies at École Nationale Superieur des Beaux-arts in Paris, France in 1948. In Paris, Choucair had the opportunity to develop her own version of abstract modernism while studying under cubist painter, Fernand Léger.
The exhibition begins with paintings which seem like poor imitations of more famous Western European artists (Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso, Léger) from this Post-War era. A closer look of these paintings offers a better explanation: perhaps Choucair is taking very gently and subtly, as one might say in England, “taking the piss” (out of her male peers? out of the predominantly-male art world?).
Instead of women dancing wildly in the buff (a la Matisse) or just posing nude in some exotic location with flowers in their hair (a la Gaugin), Choucair’s women are shown wantonly drinking tea, chatting to each other and reading a magazine as they relax in a salon.
Moving into Room 3, the minimalist sculptures on the floor demand closer study. The wooden plinths, some over four or five feet high, resemble stacks of books, or skyscrapers while the smaller works of wood or stone (or both) are experimental models for larger works – public art, fountains and monuments but are equally intriguing as hand-held objects. Created in the 60’s-70’s, these intricate works feel contemporary despite being 40 years old; they just don’t look at dated as the paintings made a decade or two earlier.
Room 4 contains a group of metal and nylon wire sculptures that reflect Choucair’s renewed focus in the 1950s “… on the trajectory of a line or arc, exploring the effects of tension, space and repetition on a single line…” (from http://www.tate.org.uk/modern). As with the wooden/stone pieces in the previous room, these too can sit comfortably with contemporary art of today while at the same time giving a perspective on sculpture from the Modern 50s.
Tate Modern takes a risk and doesn’t disappoint in their efforts to add a chapter to modern art history by bringing un-celebrated or previously-overlooked artists to an international audience. Recommended if you’re in the area and want to kill a half-hour. However, if you’re a fan of modern art, then Choucair is a must-see.
- Read more about Choucair’s exhibition at Tate Modern
- Choucair at Shubbak Festival 2013 – A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture
- Review Choucair at Tate Modern by Laura Cumming in the Guardian
“Nobody goes to Bankside hoping to be astonished by a brand new name, a new artist, a new strain of art that has not yet been bruited on the international circuit all the way from Venice to Sydney to Basel… until this year.”
- Arifa Akbar of the Independent reviews Choucair at Tate Modern
“The purpose of this show is not to right that wrong, [Choucair] concludes, but to place her in her ‘rightful position as a significant figure in the history of 20th century art'”
- Aesthetica Blog review by Hande Eagle – Choucair at Tate Modern
“Choucair, now 96 years old, has dedicated her entire life to enriching art through her interest in a vast array of subjects such as architecture, painting, science, mathematics, Islamic art and poetry.”
- Ben Luke reviews Choucair at Tate Modern – Evening Standard 4/5 stars
“A cabinet of her small-scale experiments is the highlight… it’s a 3D sketchbook, an artist’s mind mapped onto shelves. Like so much here, it reflects a singular figure who deserves her place in the spotlight, but in different circumstances might have achieved so much more.”
- Review of Choucair at Tate Modern by Andrew Lambirth of the Spectator magazine
- Blogger Kate Burt reviews Choucair at Tate Modern
“[Curator] Ann Coxon hopes the exhibition will ‘introduce Choucair’s work to a broader audience and to give her some long-overdue recognition. We also hope to do justice to her ideas and creativity and the potential within her work that was, sadly, often constrained by geographic and political circumstances.’ “
Exhibition details: You can see Saloua Raouda Choucair’s work at Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG, from 17 April through 20 October 2013. Paid entrance, concessions. Free to Tate members.