Dalloul Art Foundation

Dalloul Art Foundation

SALOUA RAOUDA CHOUCAIR SALOUA RAOUDA CHOUCAIR

SALOUA RAOUDA CHOUCAIR, Lebanon (1916 - 2017)

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Bio

Written by Arthur Debsi

Born in Ain El Mreisseh, Beirut, in 1916 to a Druze family, Saloua Raouda Choucair had always showed an interest in art since her childhood. She used to draw design school posters for events, and caricatured her teacher’s faces, while pursuing her education in Ahlia School[1]. In 1934, she enrolled in the American Junior College for Women (now the Lebanese American University), and earned a sophomore degree in natural sciences. When her family moved to Iraq in 1937, for a couple of years, she was appointed teacher of natural sciences, and drawing, at Kirkuk Elementary School. Back in Beirut in 1942, she trained in art for three months under the supervision of the Lebanese painter Omar Onsi (1901-1969), who taught her in academic painting[2]. Then, Choucair traveled to Egypt in 1943, where she spent several months in Cairo, and visited many cultural, and historical places such as old mosques[3]. Upon her return to Lebanon, she worked as a librarian at the American University of Beirut, attending courses in philosophy, and history from 1945 to 1947. At the same time, she met the Lebanese artist Mustafa Farroukh (1901-1957), who was the president of the art club at the institution. In parallel, she joined the Arab Cultural Club (ACC) – a militant Arab nationalist organization –, supervising art activities as well as exhibitions, and lectures through 1948[4]. That same year, Saloua left Lebanon for France, following her brother-in-law, who went to Paris on a business trip[5]. She eventually settled there for over three years and a half, completing her education in plastic arts at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and frequenting the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. In the French capital city, she progressively became part of the artistic scene, which included great figures including Fernand Léger (1881-1955), and Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979). She also vividly contributed to the development of the avant-garde art scene, being the director’s volunteer assistant[6] at the Atelier d’Art Abstrait, founded by Jean Dewasne (1921-1999), and Edgard Pillet (1912-1996) in October 1950[7]. Yet, she returned to Lebanon in 1951, where she began a family, and received more and more recognition, thanks to the multiple exhibitions in which she participated, and the awards that she won for her artworks.

        When Saloua Raouda Choucair was a student at the American University of Beirut, she was shocked by the remarks of her philosophy teacher, who asserted the superiority of Ancient Greek art over the Islamic arts. These words pushed her to conduct research on Islamic arts, which would become the essence of her own artistic path[8].

In the beginning of the 20th century, Lebanese students in art used to pursue their education in military schools located in the Ottoman Empire. It was only in 1937 that the Association des Musiciens Amateurs (Association of Amateur Musicians) was founded, and later on became the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts in Beirut[9]. The teaching, and the environment was Western-oriented, tearing the artists between two different cultural worlds. The students were effectively immersed in the French culture, art, music, and history, far from their Lebanese upbringing, and family background[10]. The encounters with Omar Onsi (1901-1969), and Mustapha Farroukh (1901-1957), tended to familiarize Saloua Raouda Choucair with the French impressionist style, but her catalyst had always been related to abstraction. Late in 1940s, her painting effectively revealed some abstracted figures, such as naked women, and primary colors. From her experience in Paris, Saloua Raouda Choucair was aware of the major role of geometry in modern art movements, occurring in the post-war era. However, geometry was not the monopoly of the West, as it was already a fundamental practice in Islamic, and Arab arts. She said: ‘Kandinsky’s studies of the point and the line, which we recently viewed, are studies that the Muslim artists undertook in the first century after the Hijra’[11]. Hence, she stated that the European movements somehow developed on the basis of Islamic, and Arab artistic traditions from the 8th century.

As of 1950s, Saloua Raouda Choucair produced abstracted compositions – paintings, and tapestries –, in which she depicted geometrical forms like rectangles, and triangles, with flat colors. In June 1951, the artist wrote from Paris, an article entitled ‘How Arabs Understood Pictorial Art’ on Al-Abhath journal, in which she explained: ‘The Arab never took much interest in the visible, tangible reality, or the truth that every human sees. (…) Arabs are the most sophisticated of peoples in understanding art in terms of sensory perception, and that is why they broached the subject at its essence, abstractly’[12]. Thus, she insisted on the idea that abstraction was the method chosen by the artists to reach something large, and complex. This statement indicates a spiritual dimension in Islamic as well as Arab art – which is linked to the philosophy of Sufism –, and apparent in the oeuvre of the artist. Yet, her experimentations in sculpture manifest her strong attachment to the Islamic artistic heritage, and technique, that she defended, emphasizing the idea of unity, and infinity. After her trip to the United States in 1955, where she trained in enameling, and jewelry making, she started working on clay, and wood[13]. Choucair focused on basic geometric shapes like the circle, and straight lines, whose studies would be at the origin of the series called ‘Trajectory of the Lines’. Later on, she also liked to use aluminum, brass, terracotta, and questioned the sculptural conventions, playing with the oppositions in space: interior, and exterior; openness, and closure.

In the mid-1960s, the artist initiated another series of sculpted works, originally entitled ‘Joined Units’, and later retitled ‘Poems’, or ‘Qasa’id’. This series marked a key stage of her career, and is defined by an element designated by the French word ‘module’. The sculptures that she executed are made up of distinct, but assembled pieces of different materials. Then, they are presented in various setups, like sequences, or like erected puzzles. In parallel, Saloua Raouda Choucair showed her fascination for Arabic poetry, and transformed these pieces into materialized stanzas, through a repetitive rhythm. To her, this is like a poem, which has a divided structure, but renders a harmonious whole[14].

In the wake of the Lebanese Civil War, she imagined the other series ‘Duals’, based on the notion of separation, and unity[15]. Part of the Dalloul Art Foundation’s collection, the execution made in wood called Dual (1983) is an example in which she exploited this concept. She created two elements, which can interlock with each other to form a sort of a box. But they can also be detached, and appear as two independent pieces. It is important to recall that, with her educational background in mathematics, Saloua Raouda Choucair was able to understand, and apply multiple mathematical, and physical laws. She cleverly played on the angles, the waves, and the symmetry. These skills undeniably demonstrate her rapprochement with the Islamic artistic tradition. In the Islamic civilization, the artist, or the artisan, saw in ornamentation, calligraphy, and geometry, a way to get closer to the divine presence: ‘The Muslim artist constructs the semblance of an object (for only God can create)… he initiates an esoteric spiritual art which fills the void… calligraphy the absolute… parabolic geometry of the divine’[16]. During this period, the physical infinite was also not a known notion, contrary to the mathematical infinite[17]. The progress in science namely arithmetic, and algebra, served to elaborate the artistic aesthetics in the Islamic world. Here, she also gave another lecture of the work, expressing her dream to see the city of Beirut, reunited again.

Through her study, and in-depth work on the plastic, and architectural tradition in Islam, Saloua Raouda Choucair succeeded in finding, and imposing her own artistic mark. She made a break with academic standards, and chose conceptualization over imitation. Without in fact showing an identity-related nationalism in her works, she attested the legitimacy of Islamic arts, and their theories, in the global abstract movements in the 20th century.

Saloua Raouda Choucair passed away in 2017.

[1] Choucair, Saloua Raouda. Saloua Raouda Choucair: Her Life and Art. Beirut, Lebanon: Saloua Raouda Choucair, 2002. [P.20]

[2] Khal, Helen. The Woman Artist in Lebanon. Beirut, Lebanon: The Institute for Women's Studies in the Arab World, 1988. [P.56]

[3] Choucair, Saloua Raouda. Saloua Raouda Choucair: Her Life and Art. Beirut, Lebanon: Saloua Raouda Choucair, 2002. [P.31]

[4] Choucair, Saloua Raouda. Saloua Raouda Choucair: Her Life and Art. Beirut, Lebanon: Saloua Raouda Choucair, 2002. [P.31]

[5] Coxon, Ann, Jessica Morgan, Kirsten Scheid, and Kaelen Wilson-Goldie. Saloua Raouda Choucair. London, United-Kingdom: Tate Publishing, 2013. [P.44]

[6] Choucair, Saloua Raouda. Saloua Raouda Choucair: Her Life and Art. Beirut, Lebanon: Saloua Raouda Choucair, 2002. [P.22]

[7] Alberro, Alexander. Abstraction in Reverse: the Reconfigured Spectator in Mid-Twentieth-Century Latin American Art. Chicago, USA: The University of Chicago Press, 2017. [P.75]

[8] Choucair, Saloua Raouda. Saloua Raouda Choucair: Her Life and Art. Beirut, Lebanon: Saloua Raouda Choucair, 2002. [P.18]

[9] Ali, Wijdan. Modern Islamic Art: Development and Continuity. Gainesville, USA: University Press of Florida, 1997. [P.41]

[10] Ali, Wijdan. Modern Islamic Art: Development and Continuity. Gainesville, USA: University Press of Florida, 1997. [P.42]

[11] Saloua Raouda Choucair quoted in Coxon, Ann, Jessica Morgan, Kirsten Scheid, and Kaelen Wilson-Goldie. Saloua Raouda Choucair. London, United-Kingdom: Tate Publishing, 2013. [P.120]

[12] Saloua Raouda Choucair, ‘Kayfa Fahima al-‘Arabi Fann al-Taswir’, Al-Abhath 4, no. 2, (June 1951), pp.190-201, in Lenssen, Anneka, A. Rogers, Sarah, and Shabout, Nada. Modern Art in the Arab World, Primary Documents. New York, USA: The Museum of Modern Art, 2018. [PP.145-146]

[13] Coxon, Ann. ‘The Potentiality of the Thing, Saloua Raouda Choucair’s modular sculpture’ in Coxon, Ann, Jessica Morgan, Kirsten Scheid, and Kaelen Wilson-Goldie. Saloua Raouda Choucair. London, United-Kingdom: Tate Publishing, 2013. [P.124]

[14] Choucair, Saloua Raouda. Saloua Raouda Choucair: Her Life and Art. Beirut, Lebanon: Saloua Raouda Choucair, 2002. [P.27]

[15] Coxon, Ann. ‘The Potentiality of the Thing, Saloua Raouda Choucair’s modular sculpture’ in Coxon, Ann, Jessica Morgan, Kirsten Scheid, and Kaelen Wilson-Goldie. Saloua Raouda Choucair. London, United-Kingdom: Tate Publishing, 2013. [P.131]

[16] Abdelkedir Khatibi, and Mohammed Sijelmassi quoted in Leaman, Oliver. Islamic Aesthetics: an Introduction. Edinburgh, United Kingdom: Edinburgh University Press, 2012. [P.45]

[17] Koubaji, Sarra Louati. L'Esthétique De L'abstrait Et Les Enjeux Mystiques Dans L'art Musulman. Paris, France: L'Harmattan, 2015. [P.63]

Sources

Ali, Wijdan. Modern Islamic Art: Development and Continuity. Gainesville, USA: University Press of Florida, 1997.

Alberro, Alexander. Abstraction in Reverse: the Reconfigured Spectator in Mid-Twentieth-Century Latin American Art. Chicago, USA: The University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Choucair, Saloua Raouda. Saloua Raouda Choucair: Her Life and Art. Beirut, Lebanon: Saloua Raouda Choucair, 2002.

Coxon, Ann, Jessica Morgan, Kirsten Scheid, and Kaelen Wilson-Goldie. Saloua Raouda Choucair. London, United-Kingdom: Tate Publishing, 2013.

Eigner, Saeb. Art of the Middle-East, Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World and Iran. London, UK: Merell Publishers Limited, 2011.

Khal, Helen. The Woman Artist in Lebanon. Beirut, Lebanon: The Institute for Women's Studies in the Arab World, 1988.

Koubaji, Sarra Louati. L'Esthétique De L'abstrait Et Les Enjeux Mystiques Dans L'art Musulman. Paris, France: L'Harmattan, 2015.

Leaman, Oliver. Islamic Aesthetics: an Introduction. Edinburgh, United Kingdom: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.

Lenssen, Anneka, A. Rogers, Sarah, and Shabout, Nada. Modern Art in the Arab World, Primary Documents. New York, USA: The Museum of Modern Art, 2018.

Saloua Raouda Choucair, 2014. https://www.aub.edu.lb/doctorates/recipients/Pages/choucair.aspx.

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CV

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2015

Saloua Raouda Choucair, CRG Gallery, New York, US
Saloua Raouda Choucair: The Meaning of One, The Meaning of the Multiple, in Focus: Works from the Mathaf Collection, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar

2013

Saloua Raouda Choucair, Retrospective Exhibition, Tate Modern, London, UK    

2011

Saloua Raouda Choucair: The Retrospective, Beirut Exhibition Center, Beirut, Lebanon

2010

Noble Forms, Maqam Art Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon

1993

Dar Al Nadwa, Beirut, Lebanon

1988

Gallery Mountada, Beirut, Lebanon

1977

Contact Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon

1974

Honorary retrospective exhibition by The Lebanese Artists Association at the National Council of Tourism in Beirut, Lebanon

1962

Retrospective, UNESCO Palace, Beirut, Lebanon

1952

Ecole Supérieure des Lettres, Beirut, Lebanon

1951

Colette Allendy Gallery, Paris, France

1947

Arab Cultural Center, Beirut, Lebanon

Selected Group Exhibitions

2020

Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950-1980s, Grey Art Gallery, New York, US

2019

At The Still Point Of The Turning World, There Is The Dance, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon
Home is a Foreign Place: Recent Acquisitions in Context, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, US

2018

The Permanent Collection, AUB Byblos Bank Art Gallery, Lebanon
A Century in Flux, Sharjah Art Museum, Sharjah, UAE

2017

Modern Art from the Middle East, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, US

2016

Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany
The Short Century, Sharjah Museum, Sharjah, UAE
Lebanon Modern, Les artistes femmes au Liban, curated by Pascal Odile, At the Beirut Art Fair, Lebanon

2014

Artevida, Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

2013

Companionable Silences, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France

2015

Sharjah Biennial 12, Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE

2012

Art From Lebanon, Beirut Exhibition Center, Beirut, Lebanon

2010

Masterpieces of Muhammadan Art, Munich, Germany

2009

The Road to Peace, Beirut Art Center, Beirut, Lebanon

2001

Women at an Exhibition: Four Generations of Lebanese Women Artists, Nadi Al Saha, Beirut, Lebanon

1998

Tribute to Saloua Raouda Choucair, International College, Beirut, Lebanon

1997

Sharjah International Arts Biennial 3rd edition, Sharjah, UAE

1995

Abstract Painting in Lebanese Art, Lebanese American University, Beirut, Lebanon

1993

Forces of Chance, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C., US

1989

Lebanon- The Artist’s View, 200 Years of Lebanese Painting, Barbicon Center, London, UK; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France

1986

Salon d’Automne, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon

1982

Salon d’Automne, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon

1976

Salon de Mai, Paris, France

1975

Salon de Mai, Paris, France

1974

Salon de Mai, Paris, France

1973

Salon de Mai, Paris, France

1972

Salon de Mai, Paris, France

1971

Salon de Mai, Paris, France

1969

Salon d’Automne, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon

1968

Alexandria Biennale, Alexandria, Egypt

1967

Salon d’Automne, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon

1966

Salon d’Automne, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon

1965

Salon d’Automne, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon

1950

Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, Paris, France

Awards and Honors

2014

Honorary Doctoral Degree, American University of Beirut, Lebanon

2002

Honor, Haigazian University, Beirut, Lebanon

2001

Honor, National Council of Lebanese Women, Lebanon

1999

Award for Innovation from the Fouad Makhzoumi Foundation, Lebanon

1998

Honored by the Association of Lebanese Painters and Sculptors, Lebanon

1997

Special Tribute, Sharjah International Arts Biennial 3rd edition, Sharjah, UAE

1994

Honor, Arab Cultural Club, Beirut, Lebanon

1993

National Cedars Medal – Commander rank, Lebanese President, Lebanon

1992

Honored by the Antelias Cultural Movement, Lebanon

1988

National Cedars Medal by the Lebanese government, Lebanon

1985

Honored by the General Union of Arab Artists

1981

Honor for Sculpture, General Union of Arab Artists, Baghdad, Iraq

1980

Special award for sculpture from the Arab Union of Artists

1972

Award of Excellence from the Ministry of Education and Culture, Lebanon

1968

Second Prize for sculpture at the Alexandria Biennial Exhibition, Alexandria, Egypt

1967

First Prize for Sculpture, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon

1965

First Prize for sculpture at the Autumn Salon of the Sursock Museum, Lebanon
The Palace of Justice Award, Beirut, Lebanon

1963

National Council of Tourism Prize, Beirut, Lebanon

Publications

2013

Morgan, Jessica, Ann Coxon, Kirsten Scheid, and Kaelen Wilson-Goldie. Saloua Raouda Choucair. London: Tate Publishing

2002

Tarrab, Joseph, Hala Schoukair, Helen Khal, and Cezar Nammour. Saloua Raouda Choucair: her life and art. Beirut: Saloua Raouda Choucair, 2002.

Collections

The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, US
Tate Modern, London, UK
Centre Pompidou Paris, France
Guggenheim Museum, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Sharjah Foundation, Sharjah, UAE
Nicolas Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon
Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon
The American University of Beirut, The Permanent Collection, Lebanon
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, US
Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, US
Ministry of Culture, Lebanon
Fundación Banco Santander, Madrid, Spain
MACAM, Modern and Contemporary Art Museum, Aalita, Lebanon
Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation, Lebanon
Ramzi El Saidi Art Collection, Beirut, Lebanon

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