Born in Beirut in 1916, the Lebanese artist Saloua Raouda Choucair is a pioneer of abstract art in the Arab world.
After studying casually with two of Lebanon’s pioneer painters, Raouda Choucair worked in Paris between 1948 and 1951 in the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts, La Grande Chaumière atelier, and Fernand Léger’s atelier before participating in the establishment of L’Atelier de l’Art Abstrait led by Edgar Pillet and Jean Dewasne.
She returned to Beirut in 1951. For the next several decades Choucair’s career was characterized by lone work in her atelier punctuated every decade or so with an extensive solo exhibition. Throughout the 1960s she garnered top prizes for her sculptures at the annual Salons. In 1969 she spent a year in France at the invitation of the French government, and starting in 1970 she was invited each year to send works to the Salon de Mai in Paris. In 1977 she began teaching sculpture at the Lebanese University, and in 1986 she lectured on sculpture at the American University of Beirut.
The last two decades of her life have been replete with local and national awards and a few public installations of her mammoth sculptures. In 2002 her career was documented in a catalog raisonné produced by her daughter, Hala. Firmly believing in the arithmetical basis of Islamic art, she has long rejected figurative thinking and relinquished all symbolic or iconic references. Her art, never descriptive, shunned all that was personal in a quest for the ethereal. She became famous for her sculptures that were composed of several individual pieces that could be either separated or assembled, just like the verses of an Arabic poem. Choucair, who cherished science, has also intuitively followed the Sufi experience in applying her artistic concepts. The final shape that she envisioned was an abstract form with infinite interactions, a blend of equations that existed between the elements of the piece and their surroundings.
For many years Saloua Raouda Choucair’s theories and creations went largely unappreciated and misunderstood except some small circles of fans that originated in l’Atelier de l”Art Abstrait in Paris and then expanded to include art lovers of all generations and nationalities.