A pioneer of art and culture in Qatar, Yousef Ahmad works across media and sectors, bearing witness to the many cultural, historic and economic changes experienced in Qatar since the 1970s. A deeply committed and engaged artist, Ahmad has long grounded his artistic practice in the belief that art should foster heritage and traditions while responding to the environment and confronting difficult social realities. In addition to his artistic practice, he has long been an advocate of art and cultural initiatives in Qatar. As an educator, researcher and art advisor and critic, he has committed himself to developing Qatar’s cultural institutions, an activity that includes working closely with Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani on the permanent collections of Mathaf and the Orientalist Museum.
While Ahmad’s early work was largely figurative, depicting scenes of everyday life in Qatar, his participation in the first Al-Wasiti Festival in Baghdad, in 1974, and the mentorship of Shakir Hassan Al Said (1925−2004) challenged him to explore new techniques and forms of painterly abstraction. The evolution of his experimentation with materials, techniques and the significatory potential of Arabic letters and script is evident in The Birth of Innovation. Fascinated with paper since his childhood, Ahmad here employs palm leaf paper made from locally grown palm trees, which he paints in warm, red clay tones. The paper’s surface vibrates with painted letters that cover the three panels from edge-to-edge while narrow bands of dark paint surrounded by taupe writing create architecture-like openings. Appearing to rise and fall along the center of the paper, these bands evoke the conceptual ascension and material groundedness of artistic expression.