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Exhibition: Saloua Raouda Choucair at the Tate Modern

Today's post comes from Abi.

It's likely you won't have heard of Saloua Raouda Choucair. Which is a shame because this Lebanese artist has produced some beautiful, striking and wonderfully modernist pieces throughout her career as a painter and sculpture. The good news is that a long-overdue exhibition of her work is opening at Tate Modern soon.

All images: The Salouda Raouda Choucair Foundation

Choucair is 97 and this retrospective will bring together over 120 paintings, sculptures and other objects that demonstrate her interests in science, mathematics and Islamic art and poetry and celebrate her contribution to international modernism.

The exhibition came about after curator Jessica Morgan was visiting a gallery in Beirut and spotted a work by Choucair in the gallerists office – she discovered that Choucair is well known and respected as a pioneer of abstract art in Lebanon but little known internationally. The acquisition of several of her works by the Tate followed and then the decision to give Choucair an exhibition was made.

Co-curator Ann Coxon travelled to Beirut in 2012 with Jessica in order to meet with the artists daughter, Hala Schoukair. Choucair herself, sadly, has advanced Alzheimers and is not mentally present so they were unable to meet with her. But Hala was on hand to help them select the pieces from Choucairs's Beirut apartment where she still lives. As Ann says: “Most of her life's work is kept there. She has rooms and cabinets full of sculptures, paintings and macquettes.”

Ann continues: “It was quite sad, especially for Hala, to be organising this show when Choucair is no longer able to appreciate the attention that she will finally be getting as an artist on the international stage. In her earlier life she struggled with being under-appreciated as an artist and felt her work was often misunderstood by her local critics and community. It's amazing that she kept working so tirelessly for so long.”

The pieces themselves are exquisite; I am a huge fan of modernist art and am ashamed to say I knew nothing of her work but thankfully this exhibition will go a good way in putting her work and standing as an important artist front and centre stage. I asked Ann what was her favourite piece in the exhibition? “I'm very drawn to the small gouache sketches that she made in the late 1940s – beautiful colours and geometric designs. (See above.)

There are also some great sculptures, such as Sculpture with One Thousand Pieces (left) which is a tall wooden column that looks like a kind of tower block and has complex fretwork inside made up of, presumably, a thousand small pieces all cut, shaped and fitted. Her sculptures can look quite architectural – very like many of the mid-century high rise buildings in Beirut.”

The sculptures are indeed strongly architectural in feel and the use of colour in her paintings is beautiful, the self-portrait (top image) in particular. I found myself thinking of Modigliani, Louise Bourgeois and Brancusi; many of the materials used in the sculptures are refined and polished giving a gorgeous solidity to the works. I wonder what the public will make of this wonderful work?

Ann 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 politial circumstances.”

Saloua Raouda Choucair at Tate Modern 16 April- 20 October 2013

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