Join The Monumental Gunpowder Drawings for Mathaf

Commissioned by Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art for a solo exhibition opening in December, the artist Cai Guo-Qiang will collaborate with local volunteers to produce a series of drawings rendered by igniting gunpowder. The entire process will be open for public viewing from October 22 – October 26 at Al Riwaq, the special exhibitions hall located next to the Museum of Islamic Art.

Cai Guo-Qiang is best known for his large-scale explosion projects and transformation of traditional mediums. Cai will explore a personal connection to the Gulf region through the gunpowder drawings, incorporating imagery from Islamic miniature paintings, decorative art, textiles and ancient maritime routes between the Arab world and his hometown Quanzhou, China. The finished works will be featured in the exhibition Cai Guo-Qiang: Saraab, which opens at Mathaf on December 5.

“Cai’s dynamic method of engaging local communities and creating works opens up an exciting public dialogue about the production of contemporary art,” said Mathaf director Wassan Al-Khudhairi. “The Gunpowder Drawing experience highlights Mathaf’s commitment to education and supporting connections across cultures. Saraab offers a platform to explore a larger context of contemporary art from an Arab perspective.”

Hundreds of volunteers from Doha will assist the artist and his crew to produce 10 large drawings and an ambitious porcelain mural featuring more than 480 individual panels. After the works are laid out in a specially prepared studio space, Cai will apply an assorted mix of gunpowder over stencils cut by volunteers. Each ignited blast will create a series of intricate images, blurring the line between destruction and construction. By manipulating various forms of control and accepting a degree of chance, the explosions will transform the drawings with unexpected results. These commissioned works marks an interesting evolution in Cai’s practice of reinventing traditional materials and motifs.

“I am excited to create this work in Doha, as each gunpowder drawing presents a new experience, shaped as much by the volunteers and the energy of the audience, as it is by the delicate balance of materials, weather, and temperament,” explained Cai Guo-Qiang. “It is an organic process.”

Opportunities for Participation in Cai Guo-Qiang: Saraab Gunpowder Drawing Project

Along with a targeted recruitment of local university and college students, Mathaf welcomes everyone in Doha to consider taking part in this unique opportunity. Volunteers must be at least 16 years old, non-smokers and meet certain physical requirements. For further information, please contact All applications must be submitted by October 16.

The production is open to the public from Saturday, October 22 through Tuesday, October 25 from 9 AM – 6 PM (baring a break from 1-2), and on Wednesday, October 26 from 9 AM – 1 PM.

Exhibition Overview

Cai Guo-Qiang: Saraab features the artist’s characteristic use of symbols and stories about local history and transnational movements. The exhibition explores the historic and contemporary iconography of the Arabian Gulf and its seafaring culture, as well as the Islamic history of Cai’s hometown, Quanzhou. Located on the southeast coast of China, Quanzhou was a significant maritime port on the ancient Silk Road and a trade hub for silk, porcelain, tea leaves and spices. Saraab offers Cai’s perspective on the complex web of conceptual and material connections between China and the Arab world, of dynamics between historic localities marked as much by the passage of ideas and lived experience as by material trade.

Saraab will feature more than 50 works, including 16 newly commissioned pieces, 30 recent works and nine documentary videos. The exhibition will be on view from December 5, 2011 – May 26, 2012 and will include all of the finished gunpowder drawings, documentary video of the creative process, and Cai’s preparatory sketches.

About Cai Guo-Qiang

Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, China, and was trained in stage design at the Shanghai Theater Academy. His work has since crossed multiple mediums within art, including drawing, installation, video and performance art. While living in Japan from 1986 to 1995, he explored the properties of gunpowder in his drawings, an inquiry that eventually led to his experimentation with explosives on a massive scale and to the development of his signature explosion events. Drawing upon Eastern philosophy and contemporary social issues as a conceptual basis, these projects and events aim to establish an exchange between viewers and the larger universe around them, utilizing a site-specific approach to culture and history. Cai was awarded the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, the 7th Hiroshima Art Prize in 2007, and the 20th Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2009. He was Director of Visual and Special Effects for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. In 2008, he was the subject of a retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. In fall 2010, Cai created Odyssey for the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Installed as part of the museum’s ongoing Portal Project, it is one of his largest gunpowder drawings to date. He currently lives and works in New York.

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