The Sursock Museum paid tribute to one of Lebanon’s greatest artists on her 100th birthday


To celebrate the 100th birthday of one of Lebanon’s most original and influential artists, the Sursock Museum hosted a celebration on June 24, in collaboration with the Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation. In honour of her centennial, the foundation loaned a series of recent sculptures to the museum, which were displayed outside on the esplanade.

A celebration paid tribute to Choucair’s legacy on the local, regional and global art scene, beginning with a speech and the presentation of a commemorative plaque by the Minister of Culture Raymond Araiji. A long-time friend of Choucair’s, artist and critic Samir Sayegh then made an impassioned and poetic speech, which was followed by a panel discussion exploring the artist’s work in greater detail.

Professor of architecture at the American University of Beirut George Arbid, art historian and curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Clare Davies and art historian and curator at the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Project in New York Reem Fadda all presented their views on specific ground-breaking aspects of Choucair’s work. The conversation, which was moderated by modern Arab art specialist Kirsten Scheid, was followed by a slice of real-life drama when an audience member revealed that she knew where one of Choucair’s sculptures, which disappeared during the 1980s, was hidden and who had stolen it, tasking the Minister of Culture with its retrieval.

Born on June 24, 1916, Choucair is one of the most recognised artists of her generation. Her exhibition at the Arab Cultural Gallery in Beirut is considered to have been the Arab world’s first exhibition of abstract painting, though recognition was slow in coming — Choucair sold nothing in Lebanon until 1962. Her pioneering approach to abstract art was rooted in her interests in modern architecture, Islamic art and Sufist philosophy.

Working in a diverse range of media, including paintings, sculpture, mural, textile, jewellery and design, Choucair paired two basic elements — the line and the curve — to develop a unique visual language. She was awarded a medal by the Lebanese government in 1985 and her work was exhibited at the Tate Modern in London in 2013.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Urban Art Issue #37, on pages 27