Saloua Raouda Choucair, born in 1916 in Beirut, 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 Ecole nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts and attended Fernand Leger's studio. In 1950, she was one of the first Arab artists to participate in the Salon des Realites 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. Choucair's work has been considered as one of the best examples of the spirit of abstraction characteristic of Arabic visual and geometric art, apparently disconnected from the observation of nature. Firmly believing in the arithmetical basis of Islamic art, she has long rejected figurative thinking and relinquished all symbolic or iconic references.
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.
Jessica Morgan is The Daskalopoulos Curator, International Art, at Tate Modern. Contributors include: Ann Coxon, Assistant Curator at Tate Modern. Kirsten Scheid, Professor of Anthropology at the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the American University of Beirut. Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, writer and critic, is based in Beirut.