My Five – An Intern’s Favorite Things

Katie Morris is a graduate intern at the Seattle Art Museum, working with the Curatorial Division this fall. This week, she gave a thoughtful and insightful tour of five of her favorite objects to SAM staff and interns. Here, she shares her thoughts with you.

-Sarah Berman, Curatorial Associate for Collections

 

Having been asked to choose my five favorite pieces of art on display at SAM I must apologize because I have come to the conclusion that I simply cannot achieve this goal. For me, it is impossible. Not only did I find that choosing five objects above all others on my preliminary “list of favorites” too difficult, in the process of attempting to fine-tune my selection I would inevitably find another intriguing or beautiful object that captured my eye with every walk through the gallery space. And don’t get me started on what a new day and different mood did to my selection.

So, with defeat not an option I tried to look at the task from a different angle, to give myself some boundaries and to try and anchor my selections. With this in mind a very large theme began to emerge across many of the objects at SAM – the theme of Ceremony.

In its most basic sense, ceremony is defined as a ritual observance and procedure performed at grand or formal occasions. In many regards, ceremony is apart of our daily lives.

 

Canoe-shaped bowl with quail topknots, early 20th century, Native American, Californian, Pomo, willow, sedge root, bracken fern root, quail feathers, 1 3/4 × 6 1/4 × 2 1/4in., Gift of the Estate of Robert M. Shields, 2013.4.13. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, Seattle Art Museum.

Canoe-shaped bowl with quail topknots, early 20th century, Native American, Californian, Pomo, willow, sedge root, bracken fern root, quail feathers, 1 3/4 × 6 1/4 × 2 1/4in., Gift of the Estate of Robert M. Shields, 2013.4.13. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, Seattle Art Museum.

This canoe-shaped bowl with quail topknots is a quiet symbol of ceremony. For Native American Indians of the American West, basketry and weaving is considered a highly skilled art form passed down between generations. A woven object not only usually serves a direct and functional purpose, but it is also indicative of a broader system of cultural knowledge in its design, technique and the materials available locally for its creation.

Baskets such as this one were made as simple containers, but also as gifts during formal occasions. For example, traditional wedding ceremonies in certain regions often included the bride and groom gifting each other baskets full of objects signifying commitment; for women, bread and corn to symbolize the lifetime of support she will share with her new husband, for men, meat and skins for his bride to represent his promise to feed and clothe her. Baskets in other clans were used during birthing ceremonies, holding the baby’s umbilical cord along with other objects of meaning so that the ancestors will recognize them when they arrive in the spirit world.

 

Lkaayaak yeil s'aaxw (Box of Daylight Raven Hat), ca. 1850, Native American, Tlingit, Taku, Gaanax'adi clan, maple, mirror, abalone shell, bird skin, paint, sea lion whiskers, copper, leather, Flicker feathers, 11 7/8 x 7 3/4 x 12 1/4in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.124. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, Seattle Art Museum.

Lkaayaak yeil s’aaxw (Box of Daylight Raven Hat), ca. 1850, Native American, Tlingit, Taku, Gaanax’adi clan, maple, mirror, abalone shell, bird skin, paint, sea lion whiskers, copper, leather, Flicker feathers, 11 7/8 x 7 3/4 x 12 1/4in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.124. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, Seattle Art Museum.

This carving of maple, mirror, abalone shell, bird skin, sea lion whiskers, copper, leather and Flicker feathers is an elaborate example of Tlingit carved wood hats. These carvings, attached to larger headdresses, are among the most significant objects of Tlingit clans, kept safe by the clan leader or caretaker. They are shown or worn only on ceremonial occasions and their carving often captures distinct geographic features, animals or natural phenomena that form part of the clan’s legends to which it belongs.

 

This carved wood hat depicts Raven with human-like hands and fingers. Tlingit legend says that Raven was responsible for organizing the world to the form that we inhabit it today – this carving shows him releasing the sun, the red disk above his head, and the stars and moon which are in the box that he holds. It is unusual in its full sculptural form of Raven, who is frequently depicted in the face only.

 

Pukamani pole, 1999, Leon Puruntatamari, Australian Aboriginal, Tiwi Islands, Melville Island, born 1949, natural pigments with fixative on ironwood, height 104 5/16in., Partial and promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2005.155, © Leon Puruntatamari. Currently on view in the Australian Aboriginal art gallery, Seattle Art Museum.

Pukamani pole, 1999, Leon Puruntatamari, Australian Aboriginal, Tiwi Islands, Melville Island, born 1949, natural pigments with fixative on ironwood, height 104 5/16in., Partial and promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2005.155, © Leon Puruntatamari. Currently on view in the Australian Aboriginal art gallery, Seattle Art Museum.

This ironwood Pukamani pole is another example of carving used in ceremony. For the Tiwi people of the Tiwi Islands, just off the coast of the Northern Territory in Australia, Pukamani is the ceremony surrounding death. It is performed over a series of rituals beginning with the burial of the body and culminating in the final ceremony where carved Pukamani poles are placed around the grave in a circular shape to contain and comfort the spirit of the deceased.

Between death and the final placement of burial poles around the grave sometimes more than a year will pass, but most often about six months, as the family of the deceased work to organize the people who will be involved in the ceremonial duties. It also takes a long time to carve and paint a Pukamani pole. The artists of Pukamani poles such as Leon Puruntatamari, who made this example, are paid for their artistic efforts as whilst it is a privilege to be commissioned to complete a burial pole, the deceased’s honor is attached with how his or her family arranges the Pukamani ceremonies and how generous they are with those participating.

At a Pukamani ceremony members of different Tiwi clans congregate to ensure the safe and happy journey of the deceased to the spirit world through dance and song. People will paint their bodies with designs not foremost to designate clan as is usually thought to be the case, but rather to disguise the body from the deceased who is considered to be in trickster mode until the completion of Pukamani rituals. Tiwi people will also wear feather armbands and headdresses in order to better disguise themselves.

 

Katie Morris, looking at paintings by Emily Kngwarreye, promised gifts of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, all paintings © Emily Kngwarreye. Currently on view in the Australian Aboriginal art gallery, Seattle Art Museum.

Katie Morris, looking at paintings by Emily Kngwarreye, promised gifts of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, all paintings © Emily Kngwarreye. Currently on view in the Australian Aboriginal art gallery, Seattle Art Museum.

Although there are thousands of miles between the Tiwi Islands and Emily Kngwarreye’s Country Alhalkere, in Australia’s Utopia region of the central Desert, the act of body painting during and for ceremony is of equal and sacred importance.

Emily Kngwarreye starting painting on canvas in 1989 and before her death in 1996 she completed close to 3000 works. Posthumously she has been celebrated as a great abstract painter, contributing to the same artistic dialogue as artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. But Emily Kngwarreye never saw one of these iconic artist’s work, let alone studied them in a book. For Emily, her work considered and was about one subject only: her Country.

In Awelye (Ceremony), we are seeing the same lines on the canvas as they traditionally appear on the body during women’s ceremonies. With this in mind, the surface of the painting can be likened to a ceremonial ground in which Emily Kngwarreye reenacted the ceremony to which she was custodian. She was known to sing as she painted, using the canvas to remember and pay homage to her Country. With each brushstroke she connected herself to her ancestors and kin.

 

Tureen, ca. 1725-30, Austrian, Du Paquier manufactory, hard paste porcelain, 7 3/4 x 8 1/8 x 14in. overall, Gift of Martha and Henry Isaacson, 69.171. Currently on view in the Porcelain Room, Seattle Art Museum.

Tureen, ca. 1725-30, Austrian, Du Paquier manufactory, hard paste porcelain, 7 3/4 x 8 1/8 x 14in. overall, Gift of Martha and Henry Isaacson, 69.171. Currently on view in the Porcelain Room, Seattle Art Museum.

With family in mind, my final object of ceremony is of a vastly different tone to my four previous choices. It is in no way intended to trivialize the extreme significance of the four preceding examples of objects I have presented which are tied to ceremony, but rather to simply present another object from a new angle. Given the time of year and the busy Holiday season approaching, I cannot help but reflect on the ceremonies that I know I will be apart of in the last months of the year.

This hard paste porcelain tureen was produced in Vienna sometime between 1725 and 1730. The many treasures that made their way back to Europe as a result of increased trade in the eighteenth century influenced its design. You can see the lure of exotic and distant lands that came about with this travel is visible in the monkey and Japanese-inspired floral decoration.

When looking at this quirky object of domesticity I find myself wondering of the tables that this tureen has graced and the conversations it has overheard. Has it been apart of a wedding or a birthday celebration? Or perhaps a meal on a religious holiday? After all, what is the act of sitting around a dining table during the holidays or a special occasion with family and friends? Whether your holiday meals involve an elegant monkey tureen or paper plates and takeaway containers, I suggest that it is all ceremony.

-Katie Morris, Curatorial intern, 2014

 

 

 

Roadkill from Twenty-six Roadkills by Daniel Teoli Jr, 2013

Twenty-Six Roadkills from Twentysix Gasoline Stations

The Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library at the Seattle Art Museum has a small collection of books by artists. In conjunction with the exhibition Pop Departures, we are currently showcasing one particular artist’s book, Twenty-Six Roadkills by Daniel Teoli Jr., and the example that inspired it, Twentysix Gasoline Stations by Pop Departures artist Ed Ruscha.

Twentysix Gasoline Stations
In 1963, artist Ed Ruscha (born 1937) produced his seminal artist’s book: Twentysix Gasoline Stations. The book, held in SAM’s object collection (2000.223), consists of twenty-six black and white photographs of gasoline stations that Ruscha encountered on Route 66 between Oklahoma City, where he grew up, and Los Angeles where he moved in 1956. He saw these stations frequently on his trips home, and stated that he had “a personal connection to that span of mileage between Oklahoma and California… it kind of spoke to me.”

The book was self-published when the artist was 26 years old. Ruscha found a commercial printer in Los Angeles to mass produce 400 copies and sold them for $3 each.

In 2013, NPR correspondent Caroline Miranda interviewed Ruscha about Twentysix Gasoline Stations—deemed the first modern artist’s book— on its 50th anniversary. Ruscha recalled initial reactions to it: “If I showed this book to somebody who worked in a gas station, they might be genuinely interested in it, saying ‘Oh yeah, I remember that place…’ [but] people who were in the art world, [would say things] like, ‘What is this you’re doing? Are you putting us on?’”

At the time, the intellectual establishment didn’t take it seriously and even the Library of Congress refused to put it in their collection because of its “unorthodox form and supposed lack of information.” They still don’t own the 1963 edition. But the work persevered and acquired cult status. It inspired artists like Daniel Teoli Jr. to create their own versions.

Twenty-Six Roadkills
Photographer Daniel Teoli Jr. (born 1954) grew up in Los Angeles, very close to where Ruscha lived and worked and was aware of his art from his own earliest beginnings as a photographer in the 1970s. When Teoli moved to the Northeast in the late 1980s, Ruscha “dropped off his radar.” Then, Teoli heard Miranda’s interview with Ruscha on NPR and felt moved to create his own work, wanting to memorialize Twentysix Gasoline Stations on the 50th anniversary—Twenty-Six Roadkills was the result.

Twenty-Six Roadkills is hand printed, letter size in landscape format, spiral bound with rounded corners. The book has beautiful artisan-made marbled endpapers and incorporates clear protectors between each photograph. The edition is limited to 50 artists’ books and two pre-production proof books.

Roadkill from Twenty-Six Roadkills by Daniel Teoli Jr, 2013

From: Twenty-Six Roadkills. Pittsburgh: Daniel D. Teoli Jr., 2013. SPCOL TR 647 T393 T94 2013. Gift of Daniel D. Teoli Jr. in honor of Lewis Hine and Ray Metzker. Image used by permission from the artist.

Roadkill from Twenty-Six Roadkills by Daniel Teoli Jr, 2013

From: Twenty-Six Roadkills. Pittsburgh: Daniel D. Teoli Jr., 2013. SPCOL TR 647 T393 T94 2013. Gift of Daniel D. Teoli Jr. in honor of Lewis Hine and Ray Metzker. Image used by permission from the artist.

Roadkill from Twenty-Six Roadkills by Daniel Teoli Jr, 2013

From: Twenty-Six Roadkills. Pittsburgh: Daniel D. Teoli Jr., 2013. SPCOL TR 647 T393 T94 2013. Gift of Daniel D. Teoli Jr. in honor of Lewis Hine and Ray Metzker. Image used by permission from the artist.

So how did Twenty-Six Roadkills come about? The NPR story reminded Teoli of his early interest in Ruscha. He had just completed two other artist’s books and decided, then and there, that his next book would honor the artist. He then asked himself: what twenty-six things could he use for his book? “We have a lot of roadkill [near where I live], so I settled on that.”

When I lived in L.A., we may have had a few dogs or cats as roadkill,… but when I moved to the Northeast, I was shocked at both the amount and variety. [In addition to the animals included in the book,] I’ve also seen turtles, frogs and snakes. In the nearly twenty-five years I’ve lived here, I’ve never once gotten out of the car to look over roadkill. If you live here, seeing roadkill is a daily affair; you become immune to it.

Unlike Ruscha’s “mundane” gas stations, Teoli’s subject matter may have a more visceral effect on its viewers. But he acknowledges that some viewers might think he went out of his way to show gore, but that’s not the case, he didn’t. More uncommon occurrences—like a deer Teoli saw that seemed to have exploded after being hit by an 18-wheeler—were not included.

Teoli’s book is on view just outside the Bullitt Library on the fifth floor of the Seattle Art Museum, during the library’s public hours: Wednesday-Friday, 10 am-4 pm.

SAM Art: Halloweeeeeeeeeen Edition!

Seated demon figure, 14th century, Chinese, bronze with gilt, 3 1/4 x 2 x 1 7/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 52.45. Currently on view at the Asian Art Museum.

Seated demon figure, 14th century, Chinese, bronze with gilt, 3 1/4 x 2 x 1 7/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 52.45. Currently on view at the Asian Art Museum.

‘Tis the season… for ghosts and ghouls and demons!

Supernatural beings appear in artwork spanning centuries and continents, and play distinct roles in different cultures. Even within individual cultures, these creatures have different attributes that can mean different things. It has been suggested that this demon is shivering from cold, suffering that is being imposed upon him.

SAM celebrates Halloween this week with the help of Nancy Guppy and New Day Northwest (KING 5, 11 am). Nancy will be in SAM’s galleries on Thursday, October 30, in full costume inspired by Pop Departures. Join her, and SAM, for a little Halloween inspiration!

SAM Art: How did they say “selfie” in 16th-century Italy?

Portrait of a Young Woman “C A C,” dated 1565, attributed to Scipione Pulzone, Italian, 1540/42–1598, oil on wood panel, 7 1/2 x 21 3/8 in., Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.153

Portrait of a Young Woman “C A C,” dated 1565, attributed to Santi di Tito, Italian, Florentine, 1536-1603, oil on wood panel, 7 1/2 x 21 3/8 in., Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.153

In our image-saturated age, it’s hard to imagine a time before selfies, Snapchat and Instagram. But before photography made it a simple matter to capture a life, painters strove to convey an individual’s unique character in ways that would endure through the ages. Costume, gesture, and accessories tell us about the sitter’s family and status in society, while facial expression and gaze give as much of a sense of personality and inner life as the sitter was willing to reveal.

A new installation in the European galleries (fourth floor, Seattle Art Museum) introduces you to individuals who lived in 16th-century Italy, a time when prosperous citizens considered themselves worthy of the same kinds of visual commemoration that had previously been reserved for royalty. These portraits honored important life events—a new job, a new marriage—or simply served as visual reminders of people and places long gone—just like our digital photo albums do today.

SAM Art: Poetics of paint and place

The Cornish Hills, 1911, Willard Metcalf, American, 1858 – 1925, oil on canvas, 35 x 40in., Partial and promised gift from a private collection, 2005.160. On view in American Art Masterworks, American art galleries, third floor, Seattle Art Museum, starting this Saturday, October 11.

The Cornish Hills, 1911, Willard Metcalf, American, 1858 – 1925, oil on canvas, 35 x 40in., Partial and promised gift from a private collection, 2005.160. On view in American Art Masterworks, American Art galleries, third floor, Seattle Art Museum, starting this Saturday, October 11.

Rather suddenly, as a mature painter at the age of fifty, the impressionist painter Willard Metcalf found a landscape subject that would engage him as never before. In the winter of 1909 Metcalf traveled to the artists’ enclave of Cornish, New Hampshire, where he discovered the beauty of the winter landscape, reduced to a few solid forms and strikingly contrasting colors. Thereafter, Metcalf made the scenery around Cornish something of a specialty year-round, his magnificent paintings earning him the title “poet laureate of the New England Hills.”

The Cornish Hills is just one of the paintings included in a new installation, American Art Masterworks, opening this Saturday in the American Art galleries of the Seattle Art Museum.

interns

Dream Job Involve Coffee Runs and Endless Menial Tasks? This One’s NOT for You

The Seattle Art Museum is looking for interns for fall quarter! If you are a Communications or Digital Design major, then these internships would be great for you. If you aren’t either of these majors, there are choices for you too, including positions in Human Resources and Corporate Relations.

The concept of an intern has long been associated with the likes of a lackey who exists solely for coffee runs and dry cleaning, or a scapegoat who carries the blame for anything going wrong at a company. Luckily for those in this entry level position, times have changed.

For the past three months, I have been a Communications intern for the Seattle Art Museum. SAM takes really good care of their interns; as long as you work hard, you play an integral role in the team. For Communications, interns’s work is fondly called “Intern Power” as a way to reflect the important tasks we are assigned. It’s surprising the number of small but significant tasks that have to be done. Whether it’s writing blog posts like this, or working with admissions to produce materials, there’s always something to be gained educationally. SAM works super hard to provide interns with an enriched and informative experience that involves a variety of tasks.

Working as an intern has helped me gain insight into the field I someday aspire to work professionally. I can apply tasks I’ve learned in class, like how to speak to the press, to the real world. Not to mention, it’s a great resume builder! Whether this is your first internship or your 18th, you cannot go wrong. Each internship, each intern, is diverse and everyone will learn something different. For me, I have improved my writing, my people skills, and I have a much better grasp of Excel than before.

This has been the first internship I’ve ever worked my entire life, and it has been totally worth it. Working for the Seattle Art Museum has done nothing but affirm how excited I am to be doing what I am doing, to be pursuing a future career in Public Relations or Marketing. Beginning my path with such kind, supportive, and driven people was the best thing that could have happened to me.

So, after 10 wonderful weeks, I leave here knowing that I harbor the capability to succeed with my ambitions, something that this wonderful SAMily has shown me.

For more information, visit us here, or call us at (206) 654-3100. We are accepting applications now for all listed positions. Apply today! Trust me, you won’t regret it.

-Erin Dwyer, Seattle Art Museum Communication’s Intern

SAM Art: False embroidery, real whales

Basket with Orca whale design, ca. 1910, Tlingit, spruce root, maidenhair fern stem, grass, and dyes (twining), 8 1/2 x 10 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.100. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, third floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Basket with Orca whale design, ca. 1910, Tlingit, spruce root, maidenhair fern stem, grass, and dyes (twining), 8 1/2 x 10 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.100. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, third floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Baskets made for collectors (rather than for use) were produced in large numbers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Tlingit women.  They often took the form of functional Tlingit berry and cooking baskets and displayed traditional false embroidery designs—but the fine weaving betrays its decorative intentions. This example, depicting orca whales, is of a rare type developed in the late 19th century.

SAM Art: Back from summer break!

E Pluribus Unum, 1942, Mark Tobey, American, 1890 – 1976, opaque watercolor on paper mounted on paperboard, 19 3/4 x 27 1/4 in., Gift of Mrs. Thomas D. Stimson, 43.33, © Mark Tobey / Seattle Art Museum. Now on view in Modernism in the Pacific Northwest: The Mythic and the Mystical, fourth floor, Seattle Art Museum.

E Pluribus Unum, 1942, Mark Tobey, American, 1890 – 1976, opaque watercolor on paper mounted on paperboard, 19 3/4 x 27 1/4 in., Gift of Mrs. Thomas D. Stimson, 43.33, © Mark Tobey / Seattle Art Museum. Now on view in Modernism in the Pacific Northwest: The Mythic and the Mystical, fourth floor, Seattle Art Museum.

This week, we are embracing the end of summer with the coming of Labor Day, the return of NFL football, and the end of Modernism in the Pacific Northwest: The Mythic and the Mystical.

Our Super Bowl champion Seahawks return to The CLink in their season opener on Thursday. Whether you’re cheering from the stands or from your living room, stop by the Seattle Art Museum before the game to see Modernism before it closes. The stunning collection of Northwest masters is only on view through Sunday, September 7.

With Unlimited Power and Unlimited Funding, I Would…

This summer, intern Sholeh Hajmiragha has been working with me on two projects. Her first project was to sift through years of accumulated notes on SAM’s maiolica collection, and update our records according to the best and most recent information. Her second project was different. She tells you more, below.

-Sarah Berman, Curatorial Associate for Collections

 

In the last three weeks of my curatorial internship at the Seattle Art Museum, I was given a project – to imagine that I had the power and the unlimited funding to acquire any and all art from contemporary artists in the Middle East.  This exercise was consuming and exciting, and it allowed me to gain a much greater insight into the acquisition process and research required in acquiring art.  On this last day of my internship, and for my farewell blogpost, I’ve decided to share one of my favorite artists that I researched during this exercise – ninety-eight year old Saloua Raouda Choucair.

Saloua Raouda Choucair represents an oversight in the western conception of contemporary art history.  Born in Beirut in 1916, Choucair is heralded as a pioneer of abstract art in the Arab world, though until recently Choucair was largely unknown outside of Lebanon.  Now in her ninety-eighth year, Choucair’s most recent exhibition at Tate Modern in 2013 was the first time her work has been shown publicly on a global scale.  In this regard, Choucair’s work can be considered new, with herself an unknown artist.  Yet, what makes her work significant is the reality that Choucair has been working as a female artist in the Beirut art scene from the 1940s, studying in the studio of Fernand Léger in Paris, and producing abstract art alongside the historical western modernist art movement.  Maymanah Farah writes in her essay “Saloua Raouda Choucair: Reinventing Abstraction”, “One of the many myths of the Western canon is that European modern artists invented abstraction…At the moment, there is a multidisciplinary campaign to correct the shortcomings of this history of Modernism by looking past the borders of Euro-American art centers.   It is within the experiments of artists who are noticeably absent from the Western view of art history, despite having been in pursuit of modern aesthetics, that examples of pre-modern abstraction are beginning to be reevaluated.”[1]  Choucair’s work is a perfect example of this as her abstract, modern forms and figures reflect both modernism aesthetics as well as historical Islamic art forms.

Choucair’s art encompasses the intersections of time, space, and place.  Though existing in the artistic school of western modernism, Choucair’s abstraction is distinct and notable.  As Samir Sayigh writes, “this abstraction, despite its proximity to that characterized by modern art in the great artistic capitals of the world, and despite its singularity in Lebanon and the Arab nation, remained an abstraction converging with the contemporary characteristics which characterize Eastern art, and more specifically Arab Islamic art, much more than with Western abstraction as perceived by Kandisnsky, presented by Mondrian, and realized in the Bauhaus Collection.”[2]  In addition to this dialogue of east and west lies another relationship of the object and space.  Not only does Choucair manipulate her paintings to reflect depth and form, but her three-dimensional sculptures present not only an abstraction of architecture and space and the manipulation of shape and form, but also bridge the divide between language and text and art and space.  Choucairs complex, interlocking sculptures are a clear example of this.  Choucair creates sculptural poetry that is constructed through various building blocks and carefully molded shapes that fit together and connect, creating a larger holistic form.  As Choucair has stated, “The way I organized my sculptural poems, for example, was inspired by Arabic poetry.  I wanted rhythm like the poetic meter, to be at once more independent and interlinked, and to have lines like meanings, but plastic meanings.”[3]  In this manner, Choucair translates the very deeply rooted Arabic cultural tradition of poetry into a modern and abstract art form that physically embodies a simultaneous interlocked dependence with a detached and separable independence.

Besides her sculptural work, her paintings reflect dualities as well.  In her painting Paris-Beirut, Choucair depicts an Islamic star, Cleopatra’s Needle, and the Arc de Triomphe in their most basic forms and shapes, both juxtaposed geographically and culturally, yet balanced compositionally, reflecting both an exchange between the east and west, while also hinting toward Choucair’s own decision to return to Beirut, rather than stay in Paris.  In her piece Les  Peintres Célèbres, Choucair presents a scene reminiscent of Fernand Léger’s Le Grand Déjeuner, while transforming it to reflect a new representation of women, presenting a contemporary artistic exchange between Choucair in Beirut and Léger in Paris.  Adrian Searle of The Guardian compares this painting to her former instructor Fernand Léger’s Le Grand Dé jeuner, writing, “The differences are telling, not least because the women don’t seem bothered by our gaze.  Instead, they look at art books, one of which has the title Les Peintres Célèbres (The Famous Painters), which also gives the title of these small studies.  Where Léger’s bodies are polished and overblown, these are wonkier, offhand and much more human.  Choucair’s little paintings depict women among women, oblivious to whoever stares at them.”  Finally, her painting Two=one, which Tate Modern chose to include in its exhibition, contextualizes Choucair within the time and place of Lebanon in the late twentieth century.  Riddled with glass shards, chipping paint, and a large gaping hole in its center, this painting was damaged by a bomb blast during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990).  Though no longer in the state it was intended, this piece highlights the reality of Choucair’s life in Beirut.  As Kevin Jones of ArtAsiaPacific writes, “Already in her 60s, with decades of study and practice behind her, when conflict broke out in Lebanon, Choucair simply had no artistic language to admit the war into her practice: her work was entirely rational, scientific, engineered almost to the exclusion of the human and the social.  The incursion of the war literally into the flesh of her practice with Two=one illustrates the potentially destructive force of forgetting: occluded memory, as much as the war itself, was Choucair’s nemesis.”[4]

For me, reading about and researching Choucair and her art was both inspiring and incredibly humbling.  The vast amount of work that she produced over her extensive life, with little to no recognition beyond her local art scene, is really profound.  This exercise in acquisition research highlighted for me the power and significance of displaying and curating art.   The power of her work lies not only in the art itself, but in the fact that it is now able to be seen and appreciated, showing not only her artistic achievements, but also her own life history.

 

-Sholeh Hajmiragha, Curatorial Intern, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Maymanah Farahat, “Saloua Raouda Choucair: Reinventing Abstraction”, Saloua Raouda Choucair, ed. Jessica Morgan (London: Tate Publishing, 2013), http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/14828/saloua-raouda-choucair_reinventing-abstraction-.

[2] Samir Sayigh, trans. Anna Swank, “Saloua Raouda Choucair: Distinctiveness of Style and Individuality of Vision”, ArteEast (2008), <http://www.arteeast.org/2012/03/04/saloua-raouda-choucair-distinctiveness-of-style-and-individuality-of-vision/>.

[3] Quoted in Mulhaq al-Nahar, 23 September 1995, p. 10, as recorded in Tate Modern summary of Poem (1963-5): <http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/choucair-poem-t13278/text-summary>.

[4] Kevin Jones, “Memory, Corrected: Saloua Raouda Choucair”, ArtAsiaPacific, Issue 88, May/June 2014, <http://artasiapacific.com/Magazine/88/MemoryCorrected>.