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.
Laura Barlow is a cultural leader and curator of international Modern and Contemporary Art. Her work is motivated by supporting the growth, intellectual experimentation and inclusivity of artists, creative practitioners, colleagues, students, and audiences, by infusing curating, education, community engagement, and research, to present globally relevant programs that are inclusive in their own context.
Most recently, from 2019–2021, Barlow was Founding Director and Senior Curator of Rubaiyat Qatar, a new Quadrennial of contemporary art in Doha, Qatar, at Qatar Museums, opening in 2024. In parallel Barlow was Curator of a series of public art commissions in Doha, Qatar with artists including Monira Al Qadiri, Shezad Dawood, Suki Seokyeong Kang, and Jitish Kallat.
As Curator at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar, from 2014–2019, Barlow curated a series of collection and temporary exhibitions including, Yto Barrada, My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nougat (2020), Raqs Media Collective, Still More World (2019), Mounira Al Solh: I strongly believe in our right to be frivolous, (2018) with Hendrik Folkerts, Hana Al Saadi: Proposal for a Public Sculpture (2018), Mohamed Melehi: 1962–1970 (2017), Basim Magdy: It All Started With a Map and a Picture of Scattered Little Houses, 2017, Hassan Sharif: Objects and Files (2016), and Saloua Raouda Choucair: The Meaning of One, The Meaning of the Multiple (2015), Wael Shawky: Crusades and Other Stories (2015) with Abdellah Karroum, and Manal AlDowayan: Crash (2014).
As Curator at e-flux, New York, from 2010–2013 Barlow curated exhibitions with Mariana Silva & Pedro Neves Marques (2013), Khalil Rabah (2013), Rossella Biscotti (2013), and Hito Steyerl (2012), and was managing editor of Art Agenda reviews from 2010-2012.