Saloua Raouda Choucair was a Lebanese painter and sculptor. She is said to have been the first abstract artist in Lebanon. The trailblazing Lebanese artist whose richly colored abstract paintings and intricate, organically shaped sculptures in wood, clay, aluminum, and other materials.
Born in Beirut in 1916, she lost her father at age of one in 1917.
Widowed early on, Choucair's mother had to raise three children on her own and under difficult circumstances. Choucair found inspiration within her mother Zalfa Najjar, whom aside from being well-educated, a skilled orator and a poet, Najjar had also belonged to various women's associations and was awarded a medallion from Brummana High School upon turning 100.
Art was a part of Choucair's life from the very beginning, and she believed that, for her, "art is innate”.
In 1942, Choucair took art lessons with Omar Onsi for three months, and that was ultimately the only formal art training she had received by that point in time, having learned most of everything else on her own.
Choucair's travels were also what ultimately ended up influencing her artistic production. In 1943, during World War II, the artist went to Egypt looking to find some art, but all the museums were closed as a result of the turbulent climate of the time. So, Choucair instead decided to walk around the streets of Cairo and visit the mosques she encountered, and the experience inevitably had an impact on her. "It was thrilling! I thought this is real art! It endures," she had exclaimed in one of her interviews.
In 1950, she was one of the first Arab artists to participate in the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in Paris. Before returning to Lebanon, she had her first exhibition in Paris in 1951 at the Colette Allendy gallery, and the solo show included works she had originally displayed in Beirut, in addition to paintings she produced during her time in Paris. The exhibition was far more successful than the one in Beirut, and critics from the Art and Art d'Aujourd'hui magazines enthusiastically reviewed her work.
In 1974, the Lebanese Artists Association sponsored an honorary retrospective exhibition of her work at the National Council of Tourism in Beirut. In 1985, she won an appreciation prize from the General Union of Arab Painters. In 1988, she was awarded a medal by the Lebanese government. A retrospective exhibition organized by Saleh Barakat was presented at the Beirut Exhibition Center in 2011.
In 2013, Choucair was the subject of a comprehensive retrospective at Tate Modern, It was for the first time in its 13-year history, Tate Modern has devoted a solo show to an artist who can confidently be described as completely unknown in Britain.
The retrospective brought together more than half a century of her work. It included a number of early figurative pictures she painted with spare lines and bold colors in the 1940s, as well as a bounty of her sculptures with smooth surfaces and interlocking forms. “Saloua Raouda Choucair is an extraordinary new name,” Laura Cumming declared in a review of that show in the Guardian. “She is also in her 97th year.”
Choucair's work has been considered as one of the best examples of the spirit of abstraction characteristic of Arabic visual art, completely disconnected from the observation of nature and inspired by Arabic geometric art.
Choucair died on January 26, 2017 in Beirut at the age of 100 years, leaving behind a wealth of Arabic abstract art that will forever honor her name and memory.