In an attempt to delve into the private universe of artists and art collectors, Selections is exploring the sanctuaries of various men and women, some living and others who have passed away, and shedding light on places that remain out of bounds for the majority of people. We examine how these artists and art collectors live, what surrounds them and how they go about thinking, dreaming and creating. In order to get as personal as possible, we came up with customised questions that we then presented to each of these men and women (and in the case of those who passed away to their children), tailoring our queries to the way each of them lives and goes about creating his or her work. In parallel, we shot a short film, which you can view on our website, that navigates each artist and art collector’s sanctuary. The film allows viewers to get up close and personal with artists and art collectors who seldom open their personal space up to the world. A fascinating artistic journey into the hearts and minds of some of the region’s most intriguing people.

Choucair in her studio
Choucair in her studio

Saloua Raouda Choucair was Lebanon’s first abstract artist. She pioneered Arab abstract art and left behind a prolific body of work that includes painting, drawing, architecture, textiles, jewellery and sculpture. The artist was particularly appreciated for her sophisticated symmetry and her elegant lines and forms, primarily inspired by historic Islamic designs, and she was a luminary on Beirut’s artistic stage from the 1940s up until her death in 2017 at the age of 100. In 2013, she received international recognition for her breath-taking artistic oeuvre with a comprehensive solo exhibit at London’s Tate Modern.

Choucair in her studio in the 1980s
Choucair in her studio in the 1980s

Describe Saloua Raouda Choucair in one word.
An original.

Your mother was so passionate about her work. Was art a part of your daily discussions?
Not really. She was obsessed by the current situation of the Arab World, the injustices and the mistakes. She was a militant

What is the one lesson that you’ve learned from your mom that has influenced your life?
To wake up motivated every single morning.

Do you discover new things about your mom every time you see her work?
Absolutely, continuously. She never ceases to amaze me.

Choucair in her studio
Choucair in her studio

Your mother was a rational artist but was she a spiritual person as well?
I do think so.

Do you believe she wanted you to follow her lead at any stage in her life?
She wanted me to do the things I was passionate about. She knew I had a different temperament.

How would it feel to see your mother’s work exposed to the public in museums?
It feels very good getting there, but I still did not fulfill all her dreams.

Do you feel that she’s still omnipresent spiritually?
I have a hard time thinking she is not here anymore. I always feel she is in another room.

Choucair working on her sculptures
Choucair working on her sculptures

What was Saloua Raouda Choucair’s favorite piece of work?
She liked “The Screw,” a sculpture made up of three different interlocking pieces of wood. She also liked “The Static Dynamism,” consisting of stainless steel cylinders that hold together just by mere tension.

Your mom was born in Beirut, a city that she loved a great deal. To what extent do you think Beirut has influenced her work?
She had a true feeling of belonging. She liked the people that made the city, the intellectuals. She also loved the sea.

What was Saloua Raouda Choucair’s source of inspiration?
She was constantly reading about new discoveries in science. I believe that was the biggest source.

Your mom merged art, design, craft and architecture in her work. Was there a particular influence that brought her to this approach?
She did not put art on a pedestal. She wanted art to be in our daily life. That was a particular school of thought. She was not an elitist

Choucair in her studio in 1974
Choucair in her studio in 1974

Was your mother a happy person? What was her definition of happiness?
She was happy when she was working, but what I remember is that she was very sad by the political situation and extremely frustrated on all levels.

Was she detached from the world when she was working on her art?
I am sure she was. Otherwise, she could not have survived.

Do you think her work was a material projection of her interior world?
She was a genius, mixing her fierce intellect with her strong instinct. I have no idea how she was able to have such prolific creations.

Her sculptures reveal a futuristic architecture and have a great deal of geometry. Was her work culture-specific or time-specific?
She will be a classic of all time.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Sanctuaries #47.



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