Inside: Check out this schoolwide group art project with both poetry and art connections inspired by the art of Lebanese artist, Saloua Raouda Chocair.
At first glance, today’s artwork is not the type of art I usually write about. If you have been following me for a while, you may have subtlety noticed that I generally write about art that moves me emotionally or that I find delightful. It is easy to write about what I like; I like bold, colorful, emotional, and meaningful art.
Now I know, for the sake of my readers, that I probably should go out of my comfort zone a bit, because I encourage you all to do that when picking art for your classroom and when coming up with learning activities for your students!
I came across today’s artist by looking for a good art selection from the Middle East for the Art Around the World in 21 Days email series. At first glance, the art of Saloua Raouda Choucair from Lebanon looks like something I wouldn’t necessarily gravitate towards, but after some more reading about this artist and the inspiration behind her sculpture, I’m definitely intrigued.
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Saloua Raouda Choucair
Saloua Raouda Choucair, a contemporary Lebanese artist, led a long life and worked tirelessly on her art, but received very little international recognition for it until she was 97 years old when a Tate Gallery curator discovered her art on a trip to Beirut. Choucair’s daughter had been tirelessly working to get her mother the recognition she deserved. In 2013, the Tate Gallery showed 120 of her works in a retrospective exhibition.
The opening artwork to the exhibit was this piece, TWO=ONE. Take a close look at it to see what is going on. I almost missed it at first.
This painting is very similar in style to her abstract sculptures discussed below. The composition and color palette are very intriguing, but there is another key component to this painting that wasn’t a part of the original intent of the artist.
If you take a closer look, you’ll see the painting is ripped and chipped. There are glass shards all over the painting, and there is a hole in the center. These things don’t fit with the precision in all of Choucair’s other paintings and sculptures. What do you think happened to the painting? Was this intentional by the artist?
The painting was damaged by a bomb in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). It’s an interesting clash of abstract modern art with the context it was created in. Instead of cleaning up the painting, the curator of the Choucair retrospective exhibit chose to display the damaged painting as the opener of the exhibit.
Choucair was 97 at the time of the exhibit and suffered from Alzheimer’s. She was unable to travel to London to see her exhibition. What do you think she would have thought of her damaged painting being hung in the show? We can’t know, but it’s interesting to think about. Paintings live on after they are created, and new meanings can be added through time and circumstance.
Saloua Raouda Choucair’s Poem Sculptures
One of her primary art forms are “poem sculptures.”
She creates these module pieces and fits them together into larger forms. One of her inspirations for these sculptures was the Arabic language and Sufi poetry. In this type of poetry, stanzas can stand alone as their own poems or they can be fit together in different ways to form other poems.
That is what is happening here in these poem sculptures. They can be taken apart and put together in an infinite amount of ways to create completely different works of art. Choucair said of the poems, “they are built, in a way, to go to infinity; they don’t end; you can add forever, one piece after another.”
I love the idea of creating one large, school-wide (or class-wide) sculpture with pieces made by individual students. After introducing the artist, each student could make their own piece of the puzzle (maybe a flat tetris-style composition) with found materials, cardboard, tiles, blocks, or paper.
You could take this even further and study Sufi poetry and have each student create their own line or stanza to fit together with others. The class could decide on a theme for the stanza that relates to the school, and the poem could be exhibited along with the sculptures.
These two activities focus on building and reinforcing a school community.
I am happy to see that the work of Saloua Raouda Choucair found the limelight even if it was too late for her to witness it. It makes you wonder what other artworks we will never get to see. Who else has fallen through the cracks of art history?