Cai Guo-Qiang explores East Asian philosophical and pictorial traditions and contemporary social, political and environmental issues in monumental artworks that span media, incorporating drawing, sculpture, video, performance and explosions. In 2011, as part of his exhibition Mirage at Mathaf, the artist staged one of his signature “explosion events,” the daytime Black Ceremony, which took place just outside the museum. Exploding more than eight thousand shells in a few minutes, this work centered on themes of death and histories of trans-Asian migration and trade along the Silk Road. Cai intended it as a “spiritual funeral” for Arabs who had passed away far from their homes, many of whom had worked as merchants in his home city of Quanzhou as early as the seventh century.
Ninety-Nine Horses showcases Cai’s use of gunpowder as a medium for drawing. While living in Japan between 1986 and 1995, he explored the possible uses of gunpowder, first in his drawings and then as part of his massive explosion events. In this wall-sized drawing, the singed and darkened paper bears the traces of its burning, a witness to both the transformative power of fire and the endurance of the image. Once hovering as thin lines of gunpowder above the drawing’s surface, these ninety-nine horses are now seared into, and inseparable from, the paper across which they gallop.