Saloua Raouda Choucair

Poem of Nine Verses

1966–8

Not on display
Artist
Saloua Raouda Choucair 1916–2017
Medium
Aluminium
Dimensions
Object: 270 x 210 x 70 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Middle East North Africa Acquisitions Committee 2012
Reference
T13647

Summary

Poem of Nine Verses 1966–8 comprises nine different aluminium forms placed on top of one another to create a vertical sculpture. Its configuration recalls many of Choucair’s earlier works including Infinite Structure 1963–5 (Tate T13262). Each of the forms is of a basic rectangular shape, with soft organic curves that interlock in places rather than sitting squarely on top of one another. As the title suggests, each form is likened to a verse in a poem. The work was produced in Beirut in the artist’s studio by carving a wooden version that was then cast in aluminium.

Choucair began producing what she called sculptural ‘poems’ in the early 1960s; other examples include Poem 1963–5 (Tate T13278) and Poem Wall 1965–6 (Tate T13279). The artist studied in Paris between 1948 and 1952 and the influence of artists such as Fernand Léger (1881–1955), whose studio she attended for a period, is marked in the abstract nature of her work. Her interpretation of western abstraction, however, is complicated by her study of Islamic aesthetics, as is evident in Poem of Nine Verses. This, and her other ‘poem’ works, all use the motif of interlocking forms. Her interest in such forms emerged from her concern with her religion, Sufism, and in particular its related poetry, in which individual parts are recognised as having their own identity while contributing to the identity of the whole. She has stated: ‘The way I organised 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.’ (Quoted in Mulhaq al-Nahar, 23 September 1995, p.10.)

As with earlier ‘poem’ sculptures, it is important that each individual section, or ‘verse’, of the structure is able to function as a unique sculptural form and that the individual units can be rearranged in different formations. The potential for interaction and movement within the work resonates with the work of other artists including Lygia Clark (1920–1988), whose ‘Bichos’ were similarly kinetic. Choucair’s work, however, differs due to the inherent structure among its parts and its relationship to Islamic poetry, as opposed to the organic notions of mutability which interested Clark. The sculpture’s organic, abstract forms also recall the work of Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975), though once again the specific poetic and religious references in Choucair’s work set it apart from this Western lineage.

Further reading
Joseph Tarrab, Hala Schoukair, Helen Kahl, Saloua Raouda Choucair: Her Life and Work, Beirut 2002.
Chris Dercon, Leon Krempel and Avinoam Shalem (eds.), The Future of Tradition – The Tradition of Future: 100 Years After the Exhibition ‘Masterpieces of Muhammadan Art in Munich’, exhibition catalogue, Haus der Kunst, Munich 2010, reproduced p.45.

Kyla McDonald
August 2011

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