Pioneering is to Choucair what activism was to Efflatoun, who was wholly concerned with the human condition. This is evident in her solo showing, curated by Mathaf’s Leonore-Namkha Beschi, which features paintings of jailed women, many of which underwent restoration in Mathaf’s new laboratory. These works were inspired by Efflatoun’s imprisonment in the late 1950s, when then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser sought to purge Egypt of communists. The room is theatrical—an intentional effect, says Karroum.
“The ‘Focus’ shows require a lot of research, are demanding and time-consuming,” says Karroum. “This is not one exhibition. It is five solo shows.” In the spring, he says, a new set of exhibitions will be staged with the help of guest curators—suggesting Mathaf is suffering from being somewhat understaffed. “If you show me where the researchers and curators are, we will hire them,” says Karroum, whose team is also working on Mathaf’s online encyclopaedia, as well as a major publication due in December, which will feature 400 works from the collection. The Moroccan-born director says that, in a decade, several tomes will document 5,000 works of the over 9,000 in the museum’s holdings. Though nothing surpasses the experience of seeing and feeling an artwork in person, a publication may come close, especially in that it can cultivate greater scholarship around such prized works. The “Focus” series is a great start, but for the world’s only museum with such a robust collection of Arab modernist works, more can be done.