Friday, May 24

On Display: Saloua Raouda Choucair at Tate Modern

So, I spent a few days in London last week, as I've already mentioned the main reason was for the final show of the Northern Ballet production of The Great Gatsby, at Sadler's Wells with Terri (she wrote about it here). However, as with all my visits I tried to tightly schedule as much as possible into my time (much to everyone's amusement). One of the things I scheduled time for was a visit to the Tate Modern for the Lichtenstein exhibition (which ends on Monday 27th May), whilst checking out prices for the exhibit I noticed a little information about the Choucair exhibition, an artist that I hadn't heard of before. A quick glance at the exhibition suggested that it would be something I'd enjoy, so I made sure to fit it into my schedule.

I honestly couldn't tell you how delighted I am that I added it to my to-visit list. As said on Twitter later in the day, I think I have discovered a new art crush. I loved this exhibition so much that immediately after leaving I called my mum to tell her she had to see it, and that I would be returning with her.

Saloua Raouda Choucair, born in 1916 in Beirut, is a Lebanese painter and sculptor. She was the first abstract artist in Lebanon, and her exhibition in 1947 at the Arab Cultural Gallery in Beirut is considered to have been the Arab world's first abstract painting display. In 1948 she left Lebanon and went to Paris, where she studied at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts and attended Fernand Léger's studio. In 1950, she was one of the first Arab artists to participate in the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in Paris. By 1962 she began to concentrate completely on sculpture, and by 1963, she was awarded the National Council of Tourism Prize for the execution of a stone sculpture for a public site in Beirut. Her continued success and string of awards in Lebanon culminated in a retrospective exhibition at the Beirut Exhibition Center in 2011.

Saloua Raouda Choucair’s work has not been exhibited widely outside of Lebanon, and this will be the first time a new audience can see and appreciate a long underexposed and truly progressive artist.

Composition in Blue Module 1947–51

One of the most powerful/interesting pieces displayed is a piece from the late 1940's, which was pierced by (and still contains) shards of glass in a bomb raid near Choucair's apartment, during the Lebanese Civil war of the 1980's. This piece alone is testament to the struggle that she has faced and battled through in continuing to create her work.

The most disappointing thing about the exhibition was that the person on the ticket desk informed me that I could go up any time I liked because it would be quiet; As opposed to the Lichtenstein, which would get "busier and busier" the longer I left it. It was disappointing because it left me wondering why I hadn't heard of Choucair? The exhibition has definitely left me with a curiosity for her work that I can't seem to satisfy by my usual post-visit google search. It's interesting that Choucair is such a prominent artist in her home country of Lebanon and such an unknown here, with her first exhibition UK exhibition at the age of 97. It's disappointing that a blockbuster exhibition like the Lichtenstein Retrospective, which would naturally attract a lot visitors is gaining so much coverage; Whilst I can spend 15 minutes on my own, on a Friday lunchtime in such a gorgeous exhibit like the Choucair.

The Screw

Saloua Raouda Choucair at Tate Modern
until 20th October 2013

Choucair article on Times Higher Education
Choucair Exhibit, BBC News Report
Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation Website

Artist Information and Images of artwork via Tate Online.

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