When we think of modernism and art we automatically think of New York, Paris and London. Our minds automatically head west to Dada, Surrealism, De Stijl and postimpressionism. Tate Modern is showing us that artists outside of Europe and the Americas were not the only ones creating art with a retrospective from Lebanese artist Saloua Raouda Choucair.
Choucair’s artistic career is vast and at 97 years old, the artist has explored various forms and influences from painting to sculpture. She studied under Léger in Paris in the 1940s and western influences are clearly noticeable in her early work, particularly her Les Peintres Célèbres series. If we did not know Choucair was not European, we would not be at fault. What is different though, is the artist’s colour palette. Choucair uses more ‘earthy’ tones, greens, browns and yellow ochres instead of the bright primary colours more commonly favoured by her western counterparts while her elongated figures are reminiscent of the work of Matisse.
As time moves on, Choucair’s work becomes more geometric yet the western influences are still clear. We can see this in her self portrait on the exhibition advertising posters, where she has painted herself in block tones of colour with sharp lines yet with cooler colours than we are used to seeing in Europe, more appropriate for a different climate.
The show is small, comprising only four rooms, yet it is vast and packed full of fascinating artworks. Choucair’s earlier sculptures that look like the foundations to buildings. Comprised of box like stackable forms that are made from wood and clay.
In the final room of the exhibition Choucair’s sculptures get a 21st century makeover. The brown brick like forms turn into metallic futuristic items. These structures that are often comprised of iron and nylon remind me of the work of Naum Gabo and still have a mathematical type element, which is seen in her earlier geometric work.
The Tate must be applauded for showcasing such a little known artist. The gamble has surely paid off, not only with a spectacular exhibition but in educating us in art outside the borders we are usually confined to by galleries which favour artist’s with celebrity like status. This exhibition is small but speaks volumes and should definitely not be missed.
Saloua Raouda Choucair is on display at Tate Modern until 20 October