The American University of Beirut conferred the University Medal on Lebanese modernist painter, sculptor, and fashion designer Huguette Caland on June 3. The AUB alumna was honored in recognition of her prolific career in the arts and a lifetime of creative masterworks.Caland was one of the main players in the Lebanese art scene after independence who shaped the artistic identity of their young country. While remaining attached to her country, Caland earned recognition in the Middle East, the US, and Europe with her playful, daring, and original style.
Awarded periodically since 1990 to select distinguished individuals by a vote of the Board of Trustees, AUB’s prestigious medal was presented by President Fadlo R. Khuri at Caland’s home in Kfarhbeb, in the presence of Chair of the Board of Trustees Philip Khoury; Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Nadia el Cheikh; and Caland’s daughter, Brigitte; in addition to friends from AUB and various art galleries.
“In her art Huguette Caland reveals her inner self to the public: whimsical, bold, creative, and uncompromising,” said Dean Nadia El Cheikh.
Born in Beirut in 1931, Huguette is the daughter of Lebanon’s first president Bechara El Khoury. Between 1964 and 1968, she studied Fine Arts at AUB, where she took classes with John Carswell and Arthur Frick.
“AUB provided her the freedom she sought. She discovered that drawing was finally a question of personal discipline,” wrote Carswell in Caland’s catalogue for a show in Solidere, Beirut, 2013.
Free-spirited, Caland once said, “I never asked for freedom, I took it.” True to her emotions and herself, she had a way of pushing boundaries in her art while winning the appreciation of everyone around her. She expressed herself through figurative and abstract pieces, drawings, paintings, collages, sculptures, and clothes, according to locations, moments, or daily emotions.
In 1969, Caland was determined to make a positive and tangible change and co-founded an NGO, INAASH (Association for the Development of Palestinian Camps), which creates jobs for refugee women and sells their embroidery, preserving and promoting heritage.
Caland established herself after she moved to Paris in 1970. She discovered new horizons, met many European and international artists, and delved into the world of creative modernist art. After noticing the stylish clothes she was wearing, French fashion designer Pierre Cardin asked Caland to design Nour, a line of kaftans. The collection, over 100 haute couture dresses, was presented in 1979 at Espace Cardin in the Champs Elysees in Paris.
Between 1987 and 2013, Caland lived in California. She designed her own living and working space which was a constant open house for family, friends, artists, and people from the media and the movie industries. She would host events and receive guests while continuing to paint.
From 1994 on, Caland often returned to Lebanon where Galerie Janine Rubeiz exhibited her work. She worked hard, every available material was a possible surface to reinvent herself, exploring different media and themes and drawing memories from her rich life. She stopped working in 2013, at the age of 82, leaving some of her exquisite pieces to hang in major museums, foundations, and many national and private collections all over the world.
In addition to major museums such as the Centre Pompidou, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the British Museum, and many private collectors’ homes, Caland’s work is regularly featured in solo exhibitions and major group shows at art places such as the Gallery Lombard Freid in New York, the Armory Show at Frieze Masters London, and the Dubai Modern. She attained a mini-retrospective in the Hammer’s Museum’s third edition of the “Made in L.A. 2016: a, the, though, only” biannual exhibition; and more recently, her work was selected to be featured at the Venice Biennale, May-November 2017.
Caland is one of AUB’s pillar history makers and has become a symbol of freedom of expression.
“It is an honor for the American University of Beirut to recognize the seminal works of Huguette Caland, an artist, painter, and humanitarian whose impact and masterworks have been and will be appreciated for generations,” said President Fadlo Khuri. “It is particularly poignant to have the opportunity to meet with her and to confer upon our exceptional alumnus this long overdue recognition.”