BEIRUT: In an attempt to retrace the roots of existing conditions by re-interpreting Arab abstraction contributions to aesthetics and politics, a year-long seminar titled “De-Americanizing Arab Abstraction in the Gulf, Lebanon, and New York City,” was launched.
The launch took place on Friday and was moderated by Joshua David Gonsalves, an Associate Professor at AUB's English department, and hosted by the Center for American Studies and Research at the American University of Beirut (CASAR AUB).
Among the Arab abstraction artists whose works were shown are Lebanese painter and sculptor Saloua Raouda Choucair, Morrocan painter Ahmed Cherkaoui, and Palestinian art historian Kamal Boullata, among others.
Orally sketching Saloua Raouda Choucair (1916-2017) as the first female Arab geometric abstract painter, Gonsalves first differentiated between the Abex (Abstract expressionism) and its opposite, the geometric abstraction, both of which were used as propaganda means during World War II and later during the Cold War.
He further exposed Choucair’s first representations of the Lebanese Civil War, probably due to the lack of certainty, in her “Two=One” oil on canvas (1947-1951), as well as her use of the Arabic alphabet in her “Experiment of Calligraphy” (1949) as elaborated by Madiha Umar in her writing or “Arabic calligraphy: an inspiring element in abstract art” (1949-1950).
Choucair later moved from painting to sculpture, and two of her most notable sculptures were shown, one titled “DNA section” (1980) and the other “Quantum Leap” (the 1980s - 1990s).
“Choucair’s work is an allegory of what is globally going on in the world,” Gonsalves said.
He also specified the distinction between texts, documents, and archives, noting that texts came way before archives that are nowadays evolving into the digital.
Shifting back to the Beirut's art scene of the 90s, the lecturer clarified that a clear conversion in Beiruti art occurred in the 90s, moving from Aref Al-Rayess and Saloua Raouda Choucair to more contemporary art.
Natasha Gaspar, a co-organizer of the seminar, mentioned: “There’s always that question that must be asked: why is a sculpture or painting a privileged art form?”
Abstraction also focuses on formal surface and how an artist can give a model shape without telling what it is representing, while simultaneously making specific painting futuristic and edgy by reflecting on how the artist was influenced by several schools.
The “Manifesto” (1951) by the Baghdad Group for Modern Art and 13 other readings were delivered to the seminar’s participants prior to attending, to immerse themselves in the lecturer's interpretations.
Gonsalves concluded his session by inviting the audience to attend upcoming lectures on Soviet Abstraction: "Political-Formal Influences," "Schools of Abstraction: An Interpretative Model for Explicating Geopolitical Economies of Arab Abstraction," and "Commitments: Notes on Revolution and Medium in the New Visions Group."
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