As I was sitting at the Buying Committee of the Tate Modern, my eyes were arrested in awe and also complete ignorance by a piece from an artist I did not know about, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. I was struck by the strength of her art.
The fact that she is a woman working in Iran, in her 80s, made her even more striking. The committee could not complete the purchase. My heart was so sure: this is a major artist, from the depth of the Middle East, this area of the world that is going through some dark ages. She is a star, we cannot let this piece go, let's find a solution.
What made me think of the strength I found in Louise Bourgeois? I still cannot help comparing those women and their force in their art.
So I started to find out about Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. I found she spent her earlier years in New York, studied at Parsons School of Design and Cornell University, collaborated with Warhol, was friends with Pollock, De Kooning and many other geniuses. But she decided to go back to her country where she developed her art with traditional Iranian crafts like reverse glass painting, cut mirrors and Sufi symbolism.
This woman travelled to America and Paris searching for art education. And she always tried to come back to her land despite so much segregation for her as a woman, as an artist-woman... her art was confiscated and burned during the revolution. And eventually she went back to live in her country.
Then I found another woman artist when I was at the Tate Committee, a woman from Lebanon, and she is the same age! What is going on with this generation of women who have lived in difficult political backgrounds and in difficult times? Where did they find this force of nature?
Madame Saloua Raouda Choucair. Please look at her art, now showing in Tate Modern in London. This woman has worked in geometry with such a poetic view, with softness - her sculptures are geometric contructs that can be stacked like bricks or vertebrae. She also worked with the symbolism of Sufism. She was trained in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts, a close student of Fernand Léger.
She did not sell anything in Beirut until 1962 because she would not conform to the art taste of the moment. She was driven by her search within those geometric figures that she created like verses of poems. She lived in Beirut during the Civil War, her studio was partly bombed. But she also stayed in her country and continued to express her art there.
Those women were able, in the 20th Century, to manifest through their art form an absolute of strength, of beauty, a driving force no matter what were the politics, the social environment, the public eye: they were standing in front of any crowd with their stubborn art. These women, like Louise Bourgeois, were ceaselessly working on their expression without being impressed, or stopped by judgment, nor threat. It's a psychology I admire. It just wakes up in me great sentiments of life, of courage, of desire to express myself no matter what...
They are my mentors, my sisters, my heroes. They were able through their peaceful art to fight against ignorance, never desisting despite the threat of war or revolution. They brought their intelligence and gift to bear on their national culture and creation, not looking at it like a sub-culture - although they lived and trained in Western temples of contemporary art.
These women stand out in our history, leaving for us all examples of dignity, steadiness, and freedom. We all need to be inspired by those women. Unstoppable.
Karen Ruimy is co-founder of the GREAT initiative - Gender, Rights & Equality Trust www.thegreatinitiative.com Her new album Come With Me is out on May 28 available for download from iTunes http://bit.ly/145noRw. Karen will be appearing at Mind Body Spirit at Earls Court 24-27May. Read her art and spirituality blog at www.karenruimy.com