Yan Pei-Ming, known for his epic-sized portraits of cultural icons, comes to Qatar! His first major Doha exhibition includes 150 watercolour portraits of influential Arab figures, a triptych of Jacques-Louis David’s ‘The Death of Marat’, and a series exploring assassinated political leaders from the 20th century. We catch up with Curator Francesco Bonami to find out about the exhibition.
So tell me, what is this exhibit?
It is an exhibition about history. But history is not one single whole thing there are many different histories. This show is about three histories. Modern Arab History. Art History. World History
What drew you to this art?
The great capacity to use painting in a traditional way and yet become a way to chronicle the world of communication. I believe Yan Pei Ming is able with his art to transform the bare facts or media images into an emotional state of mind. I don’t think art need to be different or special to have a strong impact I think art needs to be powerful and I believe Yan Pei Ming is.
The exhibit goes from modern history to ‘The Death of Marat’—why?
Marat was one of the first painting that was addressing history in the making. It was like a contemporary photograph taken immediately after the fact.
Does art still have the same role though, in the modern age, full of Twitter and Facebook and instagram?
Art help us to slow down, to think about ourselves, to understand ourselves. Yes art has an important role still, actually an even more important role in an age that consumes reality at an absurd pace.
Why bring it to Qatar?
Qatar is more and more playing a crucial role in the world and in particular the world of culture. Contemporary Art is as yet a very mysterious path for larger audiences. I think that Yan Pei Ming’s art is instead very accessible and a very good way to allow people to become familiar with contemporary art. They enter in it from two open doors, the door of painting and the door of history. Everybody knows history and everybody knows painting.
How can art record and depict history? Is that important?
Art puts the viewer in a different state of mind. Art is not direct as the media can be. We have time to reflect in front of a work of art, we are not pressured to take a position immediately. We know something about the world in a softer, deeper way.
Why do it now?
It a great moment of transformation for the world and for the Arab world. This exhibition talks about people who change the world in good and bad ways.
I’ve heard some of the works are ‘epic sized’—what does that mean?
Most of them are not really big. But when you are in front of something that changes the scale of reality you have a different position, you take a distance, like in front of a landscape
A lot of the art is of assassinated leaders—why focus on that?
Because a radical, relatively simple gesture or action can change history for ever.
What sort of role can art play in the modern Middle East, especially in the wake of the Arab spring?
Art does not change history but it can be a very useful tool to understand our lives and the history we live in, so it’s extremely important for any society. There is not society since the birth of humankind that did not have some form of art. A society that will not have art in any form or shape could be a very terrible society.
The Yan Mei Ping exhibition is open at the QMA Gallery in Katara until Jan 12, Mon-Sat 9am-8pm, Fri 3pm-9pm. Entrance is free. See www.ypm.qma.org.qa for more information.