Posted on October 02, 2011

On Monday, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art Director Wassan Al- Khudhairi shared details on the Museum’s upcoming exhibitionCai Guo-Qiang: Saraab with Chinese journalists in the artists’ hometown of Quanzhou, China.

On view at Mathaf from December 5, 2011 – May 26, 2012, the exhibition continues the museum’s commitment to presenting an Arab perspective on modern and contemporary art, as it turns eastward to consider dynamics across Asia for the first time. The event, held at the Quanzhou Maritime Museum, showcased the deep-seated cross-cultural connections behind the artist’s work.  Besides the artist, speakers included Al-Khudhairi, who introduced Mathaf and its mission and Professor Wu Youxiong, famed historian and author, whospoke on the historical origins of Islam in Quanzhou.

Wassan Al Khudairi speaking a the Saraab press conference in the Maritime Museum of Quanzhou, China

During the briefing, journalists benefited froma compelling, behind the scenes discussion about the artist’s first solo exhibition in the Middle East. Saraab, which means “mirage” in Arabic, explores links between the iconography and seafaring culture of the Arabian Gulf with the multi-layered history of the artist’s hometown Quanzhou. “It's an honor to be in Cai Guo Qiang’s hometown of Quanzhou since this city marks the beginning of the artist’s journey,” said Mathaf Director, Wassan Al- Khudhairi. “I have heard much from Cai about Quanzhou, and I am thrilled to be here to experience it for myself.  This city was the beginning of the Silk Road, and it is inspirational to see historic Arab elements in a place so far from the Arab World.”

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. The city also hosted some of the earliest Muslim missionaries, now buried in the city‘s Holy Mausoleum. Traces of Islamic influence, which had been a source of curiosity for the artist since his youth, include the local streetscape, the grand Ashab Mosque and cemeteries with countless Arabic-inscribed tombstones.

Providing another insight into this history, Ding Yuling, Director of Quanzhou Maritime Museum referenced his museum’s collection to reflect upon the complex web of historic and contemporary connections between China and the Arab World. The event concluded with a presentation by the artist, who discussed his personal inspiration for the works.

Cai Guo-Qiang speaking at the Saraab press conference in the Maritime Museum of Quanzhou, China

 Exhibition Overview: Saraab will feature more than 50 works, including 16 newly commissioned pieces, 30 recent works and nine documentary videos. The show is a journey of personal and artistic discovery that demonstrates the emotional breadth of Cai‘s work, from the intimate to the spectacular.  Along with several large-scale site-specific installations, Cai also will produce a number of new gunpowder drawings in Doha in October with the assistance of local volunteers. Information on how to participate can be found at

Cai Guo-Qiang is one of the most influential contemporary artists on the international art scene. Continuing Mathaf’s focus on education, the exhibition will feature a dynamic schedule of public programming through to the spring and includes a mini-retrospective that illustrates Cai‘s artistic approach, providing insight on his creative development and unique process. On the opening day of the exhibition, Cai will create a large-scale daytime explosion event, titled Black Ceremony.

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.

Cai Guo-Qiang, Wassan Al Khudairi, Professor Wu and Ms. Ding Yuling at the Saraab press conference in the Maritime Museum of Quanzhou, China

About Mathaf: The first institution of its kind in the region, Mathaf offers an Arab perspective on modern and contemporary art and supports creativity, promotes dialogue and inspires new ideas. The 5,500-square-meter (59,000-square-foot) Museum, located in a former school building in Doha‘s Education City, has a collection that offers a rare comprehensive overview of modern Arab art, representing the major trends and sites of production spanning the 1840s through the present.

Mathaf presents exhibitions that situate the Arab world in relation to a larger art context and also offers programs that engage the local and international community, encourage research and scholarship and contribute to the cultural landscape of the Gulf region, the Middle East, the Arab Diaspora and beyond.