Saloua Raouda Choucair is a Lebanese painter and sculptor. Choucair’s current exhibition at Tate Modern takes you from her visit to Paris in 1945 that helped to inspire her bold abstract style to her glass and metallic sculptures of the ’60s and ’70s.
It’s easy to miss Choucair’s Paris-Beirut painting as its tucked away on the right hand side as you enter the exhibition. But it neatly shows the Islamic Parisian cross-over that appears throughout the exhibition, particularly in Room 1.
The set of three paintings titled Les Peintres Clebres follow a motif of abstract naked ladies lounging around with tea and a checked tablecloth, looking slightly bored and watching us indifferently. They are in a Hammam, but it could just as easily be a Western spa. Similarly, the painting Chores shows women, barely dressed, ironing and washing, looking like Western abstract art, but with forms that echo other cultures, such as ancient Egyptian, all united by the common daily chores of the household.
These paintings are interesting in their own right, but further enhanced by the fact you are looking at women painted by a woman, when so often it is a man’s take on the female form that we see.
Other pieces are even more abstract and cross over into the sculptural work that follows, with many of the same shapes and forms seen in both paintings and sculptures. Interlocking shapes are common, both curved and flowing as well as strong and architectural. Many paintings are displayed alongside sculptures that ape their forms.
Architectural influences feature heavily, particularly in the larger sculptures in Room 2, including Sculpture with 1000 pieces that looks like a skyscraper and in Poem Wall whose interlocking pieces have a structural, rather than flowing form. This piece also echoes her Experiments with Calligraphy painting of stylised lettering and it could be these letters that are making up the poems on Poem Wall.
Room 3 shows many of the small prototypes of Choucair’s work. It looks like a cross-between the Science Museum shop with lots of wooden interlocking puzzles and a museum of ancient art. With the last room showcasing her later work looking at line shape and patterns using plastic and metal sculpture.
The strength of this exhibition is that I’d never seen any of it before and being able to walk around the various rooms not only wondering, literally, how many of her pieces were put together, but also looking at how they fit together as a whole, how one motif might appear in another work and how different external influences have shaped her thoughts. And I definitely came out a fan.
Saloua Raouda Choucair
17 April – 20 October 2013