Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A pioneer of abstract art in the Middle East

The world’s first major museum exhibition of Lebanese artist Saloua Raouda Choucair celebrates this remarkable artist’s extraordinary body of work. She is a pioneer of abstract art in the Middle East and, born in 1916, takes her rightful position as a significant figure in the history of twentieth-century art.

Through painting and drawing, architecture, textiles and jewellery, as well as, of course, her prolific and experimental sculptures, visitors can discover how Choucair worked in diverse media pursuing her interests in science, mathematics and Islamic art and poetry. Many of the works, made over a period of five decades, have not previously been seen outside of Lebanon.

A rare female voice in the Beirut art scene from the 1940s onwards, Choucair’s work combines elements of western abstraction with Islamic aesthetics. It is characterised by an experimental approach to materials alongside an elegant use of modular forms, lines and curves drawn from the traditions of Islamic design.

The exhibition at Tate focuses on Choucair’s sculptures from the 1950s to the 1980s, created in wood, metal, stone and fibreglass, as well as extensive examples of her early abstract paintings and some key figurative works such as Self-Portrait 1943 and Paris-Beirut 1948.

A spate of reviews applaud her as a singular figure who deserves her place in the spotlight for creating compositions with the planes and voids of these interlocking modular sculptures… There is a lot of delight in Choucair’s games of rhythm and counter-rhythm, her things that look like figures and also like sculpted words. She carved and constructed, worked with terracotta and biscuity clay, produced small organic forms and larger works with mirrors, Plexiglas and nylon thread, another reviewer states. Laura Cumming of The Observer mentions: “A great stream of gorgeous syncopated abstracts that are based on mathematical permutations but fly free of science.”

The artist survived immense cultural and political constraints. She studied art in European capitals, before returning to her roots - Islamic forms. In the process, Choucair gave Middle Eastern modernism a lucid identity.

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