Mathaf – Arab Museum of Modern Art – Cai Guo-Qiang – Saraab

The Christmas long weekend finally gave us a chance to visit Mathaf (‘museum’ in Arabic), Qatar’s Arab Museum of Modern Art. At the time, Mathaf was showcasing Saraab (‘mirage’ in Arabic), by Chinese contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang.

Guo-Qiang’s work ‘homecoming’ is visible as you walk through the Mathaf entrance, sixty-two large granite rocks all the way from Guo-Qiang’s hometown Quanzhou, China. Carved on the rocks are Arabic calligraphy, a tribute to the deaths of the Muslims minorities in Quanzhou.

Once inside Mathaf (the gallery itself was designed well, with white , minimalistic spaces, though easy to get lost), the first indoors work was  ‘ninety-nine horses’, a large eighteen metre gunpowder  drawn mural with additional small gold leafed horses hanging in front. One of Guo-Qiang’s signatures are the use of gunpowder in creation of his work, from simple explosions with templates creating works on canvas all the way to extravagant outdoor ‘daytime fireworks’ exhibitions.

The next work was one of Sonya’s favourites, titled ‘fragile’, it consisted of 480 porcelain square panels assembled into an eighteen metre canvas, each square had intricate ‘Blanc de Chine’ or Dehua (an area in the Fujian province in China close to Guo-Qiang’s hometown) porcelain flowers. On the large canvas the Arabic word ‘fragile’ was drawn with gunpowder and ignited, this contrasted with the delicate porcelain.

One interesting work, titled ‘flying together’ was a suspended lifelike camel with falcons surrounding, the falcons seemed to either be attacking or helping the camel to fly.  Like the camel, falcons are a symbol of Qatar, where falconry (essentially, keeping falcons as pets) has existed for thousands of years.

Towards the end of the exhibit were documentaries showing Guo-Qiang’s fireworks choreography, which even included the ‘daytime fireworks’ in Doha that we unfortunately missed. Daytime fireworks use coloured powder to paint the sky, because there are no smoke trails, the powder looks to appear from nowhere (except for the big bang prior).

'flying together' - life-like falcons with camel
Oil paintings of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned'homecoming' at entrance of MathafArabic calligraphy carved onto one of the rocks
'homecoming' inside Mathaf'ninety-nine horses' - horses drawn with exploded gunpowder'ninety-nine horses' - gold-leafed horses
'fragile' - Dehua porcelain flowers, with exploded gunpowder calligraphy'fragile' - Dehua porcelain flowers, with exploded gunpowder calligraphy of the Arabic wordSonya looking at 'fragile'
'fragile' - Dehua porcelain flowers, with exploded gunpowder calligraphy of the Arabic wordSingle Dehua porcelain tileSonya and a Dehua porcelain tile
'flying together' - one of the life-like falcons'flying together' - life-like falcons with camelGunpowder drawing using Abayas as a template