Tuesday, 11 June 2013
The Saloua Raouda Choucair retrospective at the Tate Modern is a revelatory survey of half a century's dazzling work in a huge variety of media - one can only baffle at an art hierarchy which means that a show of this quality and interest by a female Arabic artist is overshadowed by a big-name American like Roy Lichtenstein, a populist draw maybe but ultimately a master only of the meretricious (Brian Sewell, eat your heart out!). The comparatively small scale of the exhibition seemed inadequate to cover the range and breadth of Choucair's multifarious achievement (see for example her website: http://www.srchoucair.com/srchoucair.html ) and again attests to policies of art-curacy still dubiously weighted in terms of gender and ethnicity.
Although early semi-figurative paintings from her apprentice years in Paris bear the influence of Matisse and Leger, Choucair had already developed towards abstraction by the 40s in a way that reflects a profound engagement with the non-representational, geometric basis of much Islamic art, giving her style a refined, rhythmically-patterned cohesion of colour and line that jumps over the macho cathartics of abstract expressionism to something nearer to the 60's Op-Art of Brigit Riley, albeit warmer in tone and more imbued with spiritual under-ripples.
Equally,in her sculptural works, there seem few reference points within the European or American Modernist traditions and her interlocking, tessellating shapes in stone, wood, aluminium and other materials experiment with tropes of repeating pattern (or 'interforms') in a way which is perhaps more musical than mimetic or symbolic. Poetic, indeed:
"A series of sculptures entitled Poems have parts that work together in a flexible way. Inspired by the unique stanza style of Sufi poetry, each module may stand alone as an individual or be stacked with others to be read as a whole." (Exhibition catalogue)
Later sculptures, like the one in the photo above, are masterpieces of light and grace marrying architectural rigour with a seeming precariousness. Again, rather than inferring a subjective or political narrative, their condition as hard-won artefacts created within the fraught context of Lebanon during the 80s and 90s intensifies their power as aesthetic repositories, distillates of an austere imagination both reflective of and standing outside her immediate time and moment.