Saloua Raouda Choucair at the Tate Modern

-This exhibition is now closed-

Saloua Raouda Choucair, an artist virtually unknown outside her home country of Lebanon, is in the spotlight at the Tate Modern in her first ever British exhibition, showcasing four decades of impressive and pioneering artwork.

The show opens with a number of Choucair’s figurative paintings from the 1940s and 50s; riffs on French styles such as in Les Peintres Celebres and Chores, suggesting a more progressive and humorous attitude to female nudes. Other paintings, such as Composition in Blue Module and Fractional Module, begin to show Choucair’s fascination with geometric lines and forms, and it is in her sculpture that this abstract aesthetic is explored to full effect.

Choucair reportedly would choose to be an architect if given a second life, and quite a few of her sculptures are like fantasy architectural models. Sculpture with One Thousand Pieces, a tower made up of multiple levels of intricate wooden slats, with gaps letting light through like windows into a miniature, haphazard tower block, buzzes with elusive life from every angle. Infinite Structure is a stack of stone blocks, punctuated with holes and recesses like futuristic, alien caves. One section of the exhibition is dedicated to sketches and small sculptures; jewellery and homeware but also wonderfully imaginative maquettes for water fountains and public buildings, which give an idea of what Choucair might have been able to accomplish with the opportunity to work on a larger scale. The acrylic sculptures in the final section of the exhibition, held tight in metal frames by nylon string, brim with potential energy. Pieces such as Untitled (Inter-cube) resemble shrapnel held in suspended animation; a spectacular explosion contained only by fragile pieces of string.

It seems that good things come to those who wait, and Choucair’s international breakthrough is no less deserved for coming 70 years after the creation of the oldest work in this show; the stern Self-portrait which belies Choucair’s later dedication to abstract art.

The exhibition is open until 17 November.