Poem comprises five carved wood blocks placed on top of one another to create a vertical sculpture. Its configuration relates to that of Infinite Structure of the same date (Tate T13262), but this piece is significantly smaller, as well as being carved in a different material. Rather than being strictly geometrical, as is the case with Infinite Structure, the wooden forms have softer, more organic lines and in places interlock instead of sitting squarely on top of each other. Each block is completely pierced by at least one or two large, carved holes in its sides and ends. This work is one of a number of small scale sculptural ‘poems’ made by the artist during this time. Each individual unit is able to function as a unique sculptural form and the individual units can be rearranged in different formations. This potential for interaction and movement within the work relates it to the sculpture of artists such as Lygia Clark (1920–1988), whose ‘Bichos’ were similarly kinetic, though Choucair’s work is less about an organic mutability than about the inherent structure among its parts, and its relationship to Islamic poetry. The softer lines and abstract shapes of Poem, and the visible grain of the wood, also call for a comparison with the work of British sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975), though once again the highly specific poetical reference in Choucair’s work sets it apart from this Western lineage.
Choucair’s use of interlocking forms grew out of her interest in her religion Sufism, and its related poetry, in which individual parts are recognized as having their own identity while contributing to the unity of the whole. Choucair used the term ‘sculptural poem’ for many of her works, such as this one, making explicit reference to the structure of Arabic poetry. She 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.’ (Quoted in Mulhaq al-Nahar, 23 September 1995, p.10.)
Joseph Tarrab, Hala Schoukair, Helen Kahl, Saloua Raouda Choucair: Her Life and Work, Beirut 2002.