Saloua Raouda Choucair, Bench, ca. 1969-71. Limestone, 570 x 115 x 105 cm. Courtesy of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha.

Laura Barlow

Curator

Supervisor

Abstract

Futuristic, Interdisciplinary Aesthetics and Architecture

in the Work of Saloua Raouda Choucair 

This PhD research focusses on the work of Lebanese artist Saloua Raouda Choucair (1916–2017, Beirut, Lebanon). Choucair actively produced sculpture, painting, furniture, textiles, jewelry and extensive writings in a career spanning more than fifty years, designing an unapologetic life as a creative activist. The significance of Choucair’s works is not only in the variety and experimentation of medium and form, but their continuous active proposition for singular and plural interaction.

A long-term commitment to sculpture resulted in multiple series of abstract, modernist artworks in stone, wood, metal, and plastics, intended to be produced monumentally and experienced in public space. Choucair explored the modular, unitary structures of mathematics, science, architecture, and Arabic poetry in sculptural form to open an inquiry into the potential consciousness of the self and collective citizenry, informed by ideas of Sufi transcendence and infiniteness. Choucair revisited these formal and intellectual threads as a set of equations over time in relation to the changing socio-political context of Beirut as Lebanon experienced independence, secularization, civil war (1975-1992), and post-war rebuilding.

This research study positions Choucair as an independent, futuristic thinker. The research will explore and ask, how through an engagement with systems and networks, of nature, science, architecture, and spirituality, and the potentiality of these for the individual and collective in society, Choucair connected the history of Islamic art and architecture with advanced thinking around progressive integrated technologies and their relation to people, considering their application to ­space and the built environment. This foresight preempted and still parallels the complex focus of contemporary artistic practices today. Creating patterns or systems using pragmatic disciplines of mathematics, architecture and science, Choucair’s objects and paintings embody an intentionality: the language of these tactile forms – modularity, rhythm, and theoretical references – opens to an experiential exchange with these objects. Intentionality in these works is therefore to deepen individual and collective consciousness and capacity for knowledge and being.  

The significance of Choucair’s work is in the continuously present active proposition that it opens for singular and plural interaction. As a perceptive and strong intellectual thinker she was able to define her relationship to context and progressive thinking around her own practice without conceding to impositions. This research will ask, what were these impositions and how did the artist deflect these. Looking at the active rhythms of progress in her sculpture and writing to explore her approach to internal and external systems and structures, and organic and built environments, will map the artist’s work within an international modernism accelerated by post-world war II modernization and scientific and technological innovation.

This research is a study of Choucair within intersectional Modernisms across aesthetics and architecture starting with the artist’s context of production and exchange and including transitions through colonial, post-colonial and post-independence in dialogue with expanded, global events and sociopolitical change. In this perspective the connective thread is a question regarding the agency and political engagement of the body and mind in response or with an object, and the transition of these exchanges across “post” multiplicities in modern and contemporary practices internationally.

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Ines Weizman