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AUB mourns the loss of pioneering abstract artist
2/6/2017
Jennifer Muller  |  Office of Communications  |  media@aub.edu.lb  | 
Saloua Raouda Choucair, former AUB student and pioneer of abstract art in the Arab world, passed away on January 26, 2017 at the age of 100. 

A prolific artist with an oeuvre of astounding breadth and depth, Choucair remained largely unknown outside of a small circle of art lovers until a 2013 exhibition at the Tate Modern in London, which showcased more than 160 of Choucair's works and earned her enormous public and critical approbation.

Tate curator Jessica Morgan said that the exhibition's purpose was, “to begin to focus international attention on her work as she takes her rightful position as a significant figure in the history of twentieth-century art." Extended due to its popularity, this marked the first solo show at the Tate for an Arab artist.

Choucair was born in Ain El Mreisseh in 1916 and lived here most of her life. She studied in the studios of Omar Onsi in Lebanon and at the Atelier de l'Art Abstrait in Paris for several years. Over seven decades, primarily working out of her atelier in Ras Beirut, Choucair sculpted, painted, wove, and built.

Inspired by science and mathematics, as well as Islamic art and poetry, Choucair is best known for her sculptures, particularly the modular works made of interlocking pieces that can be taken apart and reordered. She worked in a multitude of media including wood, metal, glass, wire, clay, plastic, fiberglass, stone, and steel.  She also created innovative tapestries and jewelry pieces and was an accomplished painter.

Throughout her life, Choucair had a dedicated following in Paris, where she garnered several awards and exhibited annually at the Salon de Mai. But it is only in the past few years that Choucair's work found the international acclaim it deserves.  A 2011 retrospective at the Beirut Exhibition Center was followed in 2013 by her show at the Tate Modern.

Choucair's artistic accomplishments are all the more remarkable for having been achieved as a woman growing up in the Arab world in the early-to-mid 20th century.  Her daring progressivism and bold ambition remain an inspiration to many. 

In 2014, the American University of Beirut awarded Saloua Raouda Choucair an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters, which was presented to her daughter Hala Schoukair because the artist was too ill to attend the ceremony.  Hala Schoukair described how her mother's life was enmeshed with AUB.

“As a young woman with a BA in natural sciences, my mother worked at the AUB library and used the opportunity to enroll in some philosophy courses. In this setting, she had the epiphany that was the turning point in her life and shaped her career. It was here, provoked by a challenge from one of her professors, that she developed her theories of Islamic art and Arabic abstraction, which she later introduced to the Atelier de l'Art Abstait in Paris and guided her for the rest of her life; it was here where she did her initial research; and it was here where she returned to teach later in her life. It was in the university journal that she published her first manifesto. So we might say that Saloua Raouda Choucair, the artist, was an AUB phenomenon," said Hala Schoukair.
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  • ​​​Saloua Raouda Choucair, former AUB student and pioneer of abstract art in the Arab world, passed away on January 26, 2017 at the age of 100.
 
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