This is my Tate conservation studio relocated to Beirut. Choucair has become very well known in recent years in her own country. She isn’t widely collected. A huge proportion of this very prolific artist’s work is stored in her own apartment. I think in total 160 objects are flying to the United Kingdom for the Tate show.
I’m not nervous about the packing because they are really taking good care of everything else. It’s just to get there. So I’m just hoping they will arrive safely and come back. It will be a very nice moment for me to walk in a museum and go and see my mother’s work hang on the wall. I mean exposed in the right place, not at home you know only. I’ve been seeing them, living with them all my life.
There is a real resonance of Choucair within the apartment even though she is profoundly affected by the Alzheimer’s disease that she suffers from. She’s omnipresent spiritually, I feel she’s everywhere.
I mean my mother is here and she’s ageing gracefully, peacefully, losing her vocabulary so she cannot speak. I’m here instead telling you things about her. I wish she was. It would have been wonderful, her energy, just to see her energy. I mean growing up with her was fun because she was playing all the time, but everybody respected her passion in her family, I mean that she was extremely passionate about it. People took her seriously because she really believed in what she wanted to do.
Choucair had been in Paris in the 1940’s and had been working in Fernand Leger’s studio, and I think there along with her training she had absorbed the classical painting technique. Her sculpture is a completely different kettle of fish.
I’m sure something happened in her mind in Paris it put her on a track, but she felt that she always had this track in her. My mother didn’t waiver a lot, you know, she went really in a very straight line. Her soul was completely into forms and shapes.
She’s incredibly inventive with the materials that she’s used. Different kinds of marble, polished wood, both fired clay, unfired clay, glazed clay, fibreglass.
Beirut is very important to her, this is where she was born she’s a real Beiruti and she loved her city. She didn’t live the conflict of Lebanon with a depression. I mean she was depressed definitely; everybody was depressed in the Lebanon at the time. But there was always a new things happening in science and ‘Oh My God this is so interesting’. So she was always motivated. She wasn’t sick of modern time, she wasn’t nostalgic, she believed in the future. She believes in science and exploring space and exploring the DNA, and exploring all this.
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I would say internationally her work is very little understood, very under recognised, which of course is the importance of having the exhibition at Tate.
In the last decade let’s say or even two decades, her work has been increasingly acknowledged particularly in Beirut. One would say that generally throughout her life up until that point, she was really overlooked. In some cases perhaps purposely so. She was a woman of course, she also Druze and Beirut is a very complex as we know, in terms of the different factions and frictions, and of course also the fact of civil war, so it was impossible for any artist to have an international career let alone a local career.
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There’s one painting in the exhibition that gives you some sense of the circumstances in which Choucair was working, which of course were extreme. The painting that we’ve included was affected by a bomb that exploded very near to her apartment, glass shattered the painting. It’s partially destroyed. But I felt it was very important to include in the exhibition in order to understand that here is an artist producing this type of work completely surrounded by a very different set of circumstances, and yet her work is remaining completely true to itself let’s say and true to her own interests and fascinations.
She’s an extremely rational artist; it was not in her artistic language to bring in subjects such as the Civil War or about perhaps raising a child, or about being a wife or a mother, or indeed any of the other personal stories. These were irrelevant to her art making.
I am still discovering and I’ve been looking into those pieces forever and I still see new things in them. I know she is happy and I know that she’s happy that we are enjoying it.