DOHA, QATAR – Last night QM Gallery Al Riwaq opened its doors to a who's who of Qatar: members of the royal family, VIPs, senior delegates, ministers, journalists and critics got a sneak peek of the much-anticipated exhibition What About the Art? Contemporary Art from China (WATA), curated by internationally acclaimed New York-based Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang (pictured above.)

The exhibition, which opens today, is the spectacular centre of the 2016 Year of Culture, which celebrates national and artistic ties between Qatar and China. By exploring the contemporary and traditional cultures of both countries, through innovative cultural exchange activities, exhibitions, festivals and educational programmes, this is more than just soft power. These events will showcase the unique aspects of each nation and will allow for citizens and institutions in both countries to create sustainable partnerships.


Strategically opening during The New York Times Art for Tomorrow conference, sponsored by Sotheby’s, the preview saw an influx of people from different backgrounds actively immersing themselves in Chinese art, brought together by a familiar name. 

This isn’t the first time Cai has worked in Qatar. Back in 2011, he had a solo exhibition in Qatar’s contemporary museum, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. Titled Cai Guo-Qiang: Saraab, the exhibition showcased Cai’s diverse body of work, ranging from his signature gunpowder drawings to large-scale site-specific installations and the explosion event of Black Ceremony, and brought communities together during the beginning of Qatar's contemporary art movement.

This year, Cai has returned, not as an exhibiting artist but instead, using his creative and artistic talents to craft an exhibition, as a curator, with the primary aim to showcase talented Chinese artists; something that Cai has dedicated the three years to the curatorial research and development of this large-scale exhibition.


Bringing together 15 living artists and artist collectives born in Mainland China in one space, it examines the issue of creativity – a topic rarely touched upon in the multitude of exhibitions on Chinese contemporary art. The exhibition also confronts the contemporary art world with the questions: What about the art itself? How do these Chinese artists contribute to the creativity of modern art?

WATA's primary focus is to shine the light on Chinese artists that attempt to challenge the Chinese traditional aesthetics, and by presenting each artist’s works in an independent gallery space, the exhibition features their individual pursuit of artistic expressions, concepts, methodologies, and attitudes. 


With a diverse range of mediums on display -- painting, sculpture, installation, video, performance, and interactive video game design -- the exhibition offers a distinctive perspective on the contemporary art world, shifting an emphasis from its idiomatic language of criticism, biography, and context, to a focus on the artworks themselves. 

The artworks on show reflect contributions made by Chinese artists in contemporary art and explores the clichéd narratives of contemporary art in China. Cai believes that art from China is often stereotyped, or is expected to follow certain trends, and therefore, he has chosen to go beyond the surface to learn more about the living cultures China embodies and inviting viewers to find meaning in the creative quest the artworks represent.

Cai Guo-Qiang, Black Ceremony, 2011. Realised outside Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, 5 December 2011, 3 pm, approximately 3 minutes. Commissioned by Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. Videography by Zhang Keming, ADabisc and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, editing by Zhang Keming and Cai Studio. Collection of the artist.

The Qatar-China 2016 Year of Culture is held under the patronage of Qatar Museums’ (QM) Chairperson, Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, in partnership with Qatar’s Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, the Chinese Ministry of Culture, the Qatari Embassy in China and the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Qatar.