LAU Honors Pioneering Artist Saloua Raouda Choucair

A commemorative plaque, exhibit and book launch trace the alumna’s artistic enormity.

By Raissa Batakji

Hala Schoukair with President Mawad. Honoring her mother, said Dr. Mawad, “is a beautiful way for her to return to campus and stay on it as a symbol of talent development and a testimony to the higher premium that LAU has always assigned to art education.”
Raouda Choucair’s Mu’allaqa, or “epic poem,” has pride of place in the Orme-Gray garden on the LAU Beirut campus.
Dr. Taan dedicates her book to one of the attendees at the opening of the exhibit.
A large crowd of artists and art enthusiasts explored Raouda Choucair’s masterpieces.
The artist in her workshop. (Photo courtesy of the Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation).

A trailblazer of abstract art in the Arab World, alumna Saloua Raouda Choucair’s (AA ’38) multimedia artwork— gouaches, sculptures, textiles, furniture and jewelry— spans seven decades and has been exhibited at some of the world’s leading art venues.

One of her sculptures, named Mu’allaqa or “epic poem,” gifted to the university on Founder’s Day in 1974 by the Beirut Chapter of the Alumnae Association, has pride of place in the Orme-Gray garden on the LAU Beirut campus.

On April 23, the Institute of Art in the Arab World (IAAW), in collaboration with the Arab Institute for Women (AiW) and the Office of Alumni Relations, organized a tribute event to Choucair’s enduring legacy, which included an exhibition based on IAAW Director Yasmine Nachabe Taan’s book that focuses on Choucair’s remarkable design oeuvre, in addition to the unveiling of a commemorative plaque next to the sculpture. The activity was part of a series of events marking the university’s centennial throughout the year.

The alumna was “a fountain of talent and creativity,” said LAU President Michel E. Mawad. Honoring her “is a beautiful way for her to return to campus and stay on it as a symbol of talent development and a testimony to the higher premium that LAU has always assigned to art education,” he added.


Her daughter, artist Hala Schoukair, related how Raouda Choucair was deeply influenced by some of the women she had met through her connection to the American Junior College for Women, the forerunner to LAU. She named educator Najla Akrawi (’33), Arabic literature faculty member Thurayya Malhas (’45), ceramicist Dorothy Kazemi (’62), as well as Lebanon’s first nuclear physicist and former president of the Beirut College for Women, Dr. Salwa Nassar (’33).


“All those distinguished women are present in the verses of this sculpture,” said Schoukair, adding: “It is always crucial to be in the right environment to keep our independent, authentic, brilliant and militant minds healthy in order to create art that is independent, authentic, brilliant and militant.”

The sculpture on the Beirut campus, as Schoukair explained, was originally made up of six verses, whereas the one currently on display contains seven, following a restoration job in 2011.

“You see, Mother always talked about growth and how her sculptures, including this one, can evolve and grow,” she said.

Choucair’s “unique approach has captivated audiences with its originality,” leaving “an indelible mark on all lovers of art,” said AiW Executive Director Myriam Sfeir. She pointed out how the artist “strove to overcome societal norms and Western-centric art narratives, carving out a place of her own.”src-tribute-2024-myriam-sfeir.jpg

For Alumni Outreach and Engagement Executive Ghada Majed, who was also the Master of Ceremonies at the event, Choucair’s Mu’allaqa “holds immense value, symbolizing the deep loyalty and sincere devotion that the graduates of this institution have always held for their alma mater.”


Opening the exhibit, Dean of the School of Architecture and Design Elie Haddad gave an overview of “Choucair’s pioneering work,” noting that she is one of the few artists from the Arab world to have had her work exhibited at the Tate Modern in London, in 2013, which called into question the one-sided Western concept of Modernity.


Dr. Taan invited the large crowd of artists and art enthusiasts to explore “the interlocking shapes and modular forms, electric appliances, book covers, garments, ceramics, tapestry, furniture, and jewelry design that reflect Saloua’s belief that art and design are integral to the advancement of a nation’s history and culture.”


Inspired by Choucair’s critical mind and Professor Mehranguise Irani’s teaching at LAU during the 1980s, Dr. Taan said she revised her approach to teaching art history in Lebanon and the Arab World, opting “to introduce raw materials about the local culture in the curriculum by adding design work produced by pioneering artists and designers who share my culture.”


The exhibit is open until May 10, 2024, from 2:00-6:00 p.m.