Cai Guo-Qiang’s Homecoming

Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art has announced an exhibition of new and recent works by Cai Guo-Qiang from December 5, 2011 to May 26, 2012. ‘Cai Guo-Qiang: Saraab’ will be the artist’s first solo exhibition in the Middle East, as well as the first single-artist exhibition at Mathaf since its grand opening in December 2010. ‘Saraab’, meaning ‘mirage’ in arabic, will feature more than 50 works, including 17 newly commissioned pieces, recent artworks, and documentary materials that illustrate the artist’s unique creative process.

“Through this exhibition, Cai Guo-Qiang will use his perspective as an artist to further extend the relationship between China and Arabia that dates back to the Silk Road, all the while exploring the possibility of direct dialogue between two cultures in the new context of globalisation” said Mathaf director Wassan Al-Khudhairi.

In ‘Saraab’, Cai will explore the complex connections between Qatar and Cai’s hometown of Quanzhou, a city once known as one of China’s largest seaports and a coastal gateway to the historic Silk Road. ‘Saraab’ will showcase Cai’s body of work and approach, crossing artistic mediums of drawing, installation, video, and his celebrated explosion events. Sixteen new pieces will be created for the show, including large-scale, site-specific installations and new examples of his signature ‘gunpowder drawings.’ The creative process of the latter, produced with the assistance of local volunteers, will be open to the public. The new works will be influenced or inspired by Islamic architectural forms and decorative patterns that depict such diverse motifs as the desert landscape, navigation, ceramics, calligraphy, and animals. In addition, ‘Saraab’ will include thirty recent works and nine documentary videos that trace the artist’s development over the years. They also help to expand awareness of the artist’s creative process. One of the works will be titled ‘Homecoming’.

“The exhibition at Mathaf gives me an opportunity to read and understand what is written in Arabic on the tombstones and steles that were everywhere in my hometown growing up,” said the artist. “A creative journey begins with these inscriptions, and the whole project is an attempt to connect the history and culture of my hometown with Arab history and with the culture of Qatar. From this, associations of how Arab culture at present relates to the rest of the world are formed. For many of the new works, their materials and forms were inspired by Arab culture. To foster an exchange and to collaborate with the local community is also an important aspect in the creation of these works.”

Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, China. 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 one the exhibits in 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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