Arab Today, arab today lebanese artist receives recognition lateperhaps too latein life
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Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Lebanese artist receives recognition late - perhaps too late - in life

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Lebanese artist receives recognition late - perhaps too late - in life

London - Arabstoday

In the end, it all came down to chance and the blessing of peripheral vision - figuratively and literally.In 2011, Jessica Morgan, the newly appointed Daskalopoulos Curator at London\'s Tate Modern, was in the Middle East, hunting for artwork that would help the British institution fulfil its ambition to broaden the geographical scope of its collection. \"We had been moving into collecting in the Middle Eastern region and she\'d been doing a lot of work there,\" recalls Ann Coxon, one of Morgan\'s fellow curators. \"She was in Beirut, visiting Saleh Barakat, one of the dealers, and he was showing her work by young emerging contemporary artists when she spotted something out of the corner of her eye, and said: \'What\'s that amazing thing?\'\" That amazing thing was Poem, a sculpture created in the mid-1960s by an artist who was now neither young nor emerging - Saloua Raouda Choucair, well enough known in her native Beirut but, until that moment, virtually unknown in the West. Morgan\'s chance find would change all that. Delving further into Choucair\'s story, she discovered a fascinating tale of an Arab artist who, embarking on a journey of exploration of western abstraction in the 1950s, had not only been ahead of her time but also, through her application of the concept of Islamic aesthetics, had built a pioneering creative bridge between two cultures. The Tate acted immediately. In 2011 and 2012, supported by contributions from members of its Middle East-North Africa acquisitions committee, it bought three pieces by the now nonagenarian artist: one oil painting, Composition in Blue Module (1947-51), and two sculptures: Infinite Structure (1963-5) and Poem of Nine Verses (1966-8). Three more sculptures were donated, two anonymously - Poem (1963-5) and Poem Wall (1963-6) - and one, The Screw (1975-7), was presented by the Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation, managed by the artist\'s daughter. Five of those six pieces can be seen currently in Structure and Clarity, a themed section of the Tate Modern\'s permanent exhibition, on level four of its imposing building on the south bank of the River Thames. There, as part of a theme that explores the development of abstract art since the early 20th century, Choucair has found her place in art history, alongside the likes of René Magritte, Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian and Henri Matisse. And, if that sounds like a fairy-tale ending for a still-living artist who spent her working life in relative international obscurity, it will be topped next month when the Tate stages the world\'s first major museum exhibition of Choucair\'s work, bringing together 120 pieces from a six-decade career, many of which have never left the artist\'s home, let alone been shown in public before. \"It is so unusual to encounter an entire oeuvre of such an important figure,\" says Morgan. \"It\'s a great honour to be able to present the work at Tate.\" But within this triumph of vindication lies tragedy. Now in her 97th year, Saloua Raouda Choucair has been robbed by Alzheimer\'s disease of the ability to fully appreciate her long-overdue recognition. \"It is very tragic,\" says the Tate\'s Coxon, who is co-curating the Choucair retrospective with Morgan, \"especially for her daughter, who is now trying to piece together and be a spokesperson for what her mother was thinking, now that curators have come knocking at her door.\" The difficulty of the task for Hala Schoukair - her name differs slightly from her mother\'s thanks to an accident of passport-office bureaucracy - is compounded by a sad fact of life familiar to many families.

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