Yousef Ahmad is considered a pioneer for his significant contribution to the evolution of Modern and Contemporary art in Qatar. Observing the socio-economic, cultural, artistic and historical developments which his country witnessed during the 1970s and 1980s, Ahmad set upon himself the responsibility, as an art advisor and educator, to document the development of the art scene in Qatar.
Born in 1955 into a family of three sisters and two brothers, his mother Maryam Al Baker, and his father was Ahmad Mohammed al-Homaid who worked initially as a pearl diver prior to joining Qatar Petroleum Company. Ahmad's marriage to Nihad al-Sayed was in 1982, and of this union Abdulrahman (1984), Maryam (1988) a graduate in Graphic Design (VCUQ), and Abdulaziz (1992), were born.
Ahmad, along with artists such as Jassim al-Zaini, Hassan al-Mulla, Wafika Sultan Saif al-Essa, Saif al-Kuwari, Mohammed al-Kuwari, Majid al-Mislimani, and Mohammed Ali Abdulla, was among the first generation of Qatari artists to study overseas. The Ministry of Education began to offer scholarships to talented candidates to study in Iraq and Egypt, as well as in Italy, France and the United States of America.
Ahmad graduated from the Faculty of Art Education, Helwan University, Cairo with a BA in Fine Arts and Education in 1976. He studied under Gazbia Sirry, Youssef Siedeh, Hamdi Khamis, and Dr. Mahmoud al-Bassyouni. On his return to his country, Ahmad worked as an artistic education orientation officer in the Ministry of Education, and then headed the Department of Fine Arts in the Ministry of Information, organizing his first exhibition at the Qatar National Museum Hall in 1977. Ahmad's articles about art schools, art criticism and art in Qatar, as well as critiques of exhibitions of Qatari artists, began to appear in the daily newspaper Gulf Times, and the Ministry of Information's monthly Doha Magazine.
With a keen interest in conveying art to the public, Ahmad and his colleagues Mohammed Ali Abdulla and Hassan al-Mulla from the Ministry of Information established in the mid-1970s a group called The Three Friends. The art scene in Qatar during the 1970s and 1980s was flourishing thanks to the active involvement of schools, governmental and non-governmental institutions, as well as the establishment of cultural departments such as that in al-Jasrah Cultural and Social Club in 1972, and the Cultural Center in 1976.
Independence in 1971, along the accession of a new Emir, His Excellency Sheikh Khalifa Bin Hamad Al Thani, brought about dramatic changes to the benefit of the fledgling art scene in Qatar. Policy makers and educators affiliated with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Information focused on intellectual, cultural and artistic development, laying the ground for establishing Qatar as an art center of excellence regionally. At the local level, the Ministry of Education began establishing more primary and secondary schools, and later, in 1981, the Department of Artistic Education at Qatar University, setting up the foundations for comprehensive school curricula in which artistic education was valued. Such initiatives attempted to raise awareness among the Qatari population of the need for artistic knowledge and training while encouraging contemporary talents to engage in artistic activities by featuring their work at local and international exhibitions.
In addition, the staging of individual exhibitions in Qatar by several visiting Arab artists had an impact on broadening the horizons of Qatari artists, and provided opportunities for dialogue on creativity. These Arab artists included Salah Taher (1976), Mohammed al-Qadi (1977), Khalid al-Naeb (1982), Sakhr Farzan (1982), Hessein al-Jibali (1983), Mansour al-Badaoui (1984), Ali Ghaddaf (1984), Abdalhadi Shella (1985), Kamal Boullata (1985), Abderrasoul Sliman (1985), Wafaa al-Sabbagh (1985), Badi al-Tawit (1986), Adel al-Mesri (1986), and Rashid Diyab (1987).
A member of the Arab League Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ALESCO) in the early 1980s, Ahmad was assigned to conduct a study of the so-called Fine arts (Modern art) in Qatar. Witnessing these exhibitions and other artistic activities in Qatar since their inception, the absence of any relevant art criticism concerning them along with his own research prompted him to write his book al-Funoon at-Tashkeeliyyah al-Mu'aasirah fee Qatar (Contemporary Fine Arts in Qatar) (1986). In this book, Ahmad documented a number of pioneering contemporary artists, and identified the institutions and organizations actively involved in the development of the fine arts in Qatar.
In 1982, Ahmad travelled to the United States where he earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from Mills College in Oakland, California. Following his return to Qatar, from 1983 to 2004 Ahmad taught art appreciation, the principles of drawing, and art history at Qatar University, where he met and taught His Excellency Sheikh Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al Thani. Sharing an avid love for art with H. E. Sheikh Hassan, Ahmad has played an instrumental role in assembling the variety of artwork which constitute the major collections of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and the Orientalist Museum. Ahmad has also served as Director of both these museums approximately from 1994 to 2008. He took part in the artist residency program which was held in Madinat Khalifa, Qatar in 1995.
In the mid-1980s, Ahmad was one of a group of artists including Abderrasoul Sliman, Hassan al-Mulla, Mohammed Khamis, and Fouad al-Mgharbal whose meeting during the Exhibit of Abderrasoul Sliman at a hall in the Sheraton Hotel in Doha resulted in the formation of a group called The Friends of the Fine Art Society. The aim of this group was to foster artistic development in the region by organizing travelling exhibitions in the GCC countries, facilitating contact among artists and their audiences in the region, and by highlighting the uniqueness of Arab art.
Ahmad's artistic journey underwent various phases. As a young child, his innate talent was revealed when he began drawing on the walls of his home, using the charcoal left from his mother's cooking. Also, he initially experimented with wax, cardboard, and black and white engraving on glass. Like his contemporaries Jassim al-Zaini, Salman al-Malik, Hassan al-Mulla, Ali Sharif, Mohammed al-Jaidah, Mohammed Ali Abdulla, Wafika Sultan Saif al-Essa, Ahmad's initial paintings such as
Popular Tailor (1973),
Demolished Houses (1975),
Restorer (Djij) (1975),
Local Coffee Shop (1988) were realistic, documenting the Qatari environment (including the sea, desert, landscape, and dhow industry) and the customs and traditions of local people while going about their everyday lives. However, following his interaction with the atelier of Shakir Hassan Al Said (1925 - 2004) as a result of his participation in the First al-Wasiti Festival in Baghdad in 1974, Ahmad began to conceive new artistic possibilities. Similarly, Ahmad's interaction with the ateliers of the renowned Egyptian illustrator Hussein Bicar (1913 - 2002), and Youssef Siedeh (1922 - 1994) enriched his artistic education and his approach to arts. Ahmad's academic training, together with his exposure to such stimulating influences, ignited his passion for broadening his experimentation with different media and techniques, moving on from a realistic approach toward an abstract treatment of Arabic letters.
Ahmad through his manipulation of Arabic letters was able at times to capture Islamic architectural and cultural components, and at others to highlight the aesthetic forms and shapes of the letters themselves. Initially, the letters in his paintings formed words that were in various scripts (such as the naskh, the thuluth, the "Riq'a" and the "Farsi" scripts) legible to the viewer. However, after his continuous experimentation with the Arabic letter as a shape rather than a signifier, they became abstracted, and while still individually recognizable, together no longer conveyed any distinct meaning. Ahmad has creatively developed his unique and innovative style of calligraphy, whereby a combination of letters are transformed into abstract signs, which in turn, manifest abstract arrangements.
Ahmad's fascination with paper grew within him since his early childhood when he used to play with paper planes. Later on in his life, he travelled to Japan, Thailand, Nepal and India, calling himself the "crazy about paper" as he was always exploring locally handmade papers.
In his large-scale artwork, Ahmad depicts Arabic letters in their variety of shapes with a particular focus on the construction of his composition. Ahmad's constant experimentation with a variety of media, starting with oil, acrylic and mixed media on canvas or panel, and later silkscreen paint on board and watercolor on paper, led him to create his unique palm leaf paper made from locally grown Qatari palm trees. In his works,
The Letter Eco (2011) and
The Third Dimension Mosaic, artwork 21 (2014), Ahmad engages freely and spontaneously with the surface and large space within his black wooden frame by means of this locally created medium and huroufiyyah. In fact, his recent work in Full Moon Love Letters (2013),
The Dancing Letters (2013), and
The Third – Dimension Mosaic (2014) reflects Ahmad's complete mastery in his deployment of both of elements together, the handmade Qatari palm leaf paper and the aesthetically shaped letters.
His exhibition Yousef Ahmad: Story of Ingenuity, on show from November 11, 2014 to March 28, 2015 at Qatar Museums Gallery in Katara (Qatar) showcases a selection of his most striking artwork from his early career in the 1970s until today. This show highlights three phases in Ahmad's artistic journey from the early oil paintings which include his historic depiction of al-Zubarah Fort, to his mixed media calligraphic artwork, and then to his innovative artistic experimentation with media such as handmade paper, and abstract style.
Ahmad believes that an Arab artist should never lose sight of three themes in the creation of his work. The first is to relate to the forces of influence and interaction of the popular environment. The second is to foster the heritage and traditions of his forbears and civilization. The third is to confront in his work the realities of life and events in the world no matter how shocking or unpleasant. In his artistic collage Lebanon Burns, and in
Crying for Sarajevo 1 and 2 (1995), Ahmad sought to articulate a collective cause for not remaining indifferent to such catastrophes. In his artwork
al-Umoumah ("Motherhood"), Ahmad resorts to dark warm colors while his composition contrasts sharply drawn lines and triangles with a circular egg-shaped mass. This work depicts the intimate moments of love and kinship between a mother and her child, and ultimately reveals the intrinsic feelings of the artist vis-à-vis the "mother" and motherhood as a subject.
Ahmad resorts to both primary and secondary colors, and at times cold and warm colors are harmoniously nuanced, while at others they are distinctively contrasted. Earth colors such as light brown, pale yellow, beige, orange, which represent the Eastern environment, as well as other colors such as green, gold and blue inspired by Islamic culture remain predominant in his work. He skillfully manipulates tones and shades of colors, which impart to his work a unique and deeply felt spirituality. To execute
al-Zubara (1993), a commission by His Excellency Sheikh Hassan, Ahmad worked with high quality Holland oil paints to develop specific range of colors as close as possible to those of his natural environment.
In his recent artwork, Ahmad, inspired by his local environment makes extensive use of earth colors such as those of dust and sand. Ahmad remains committed, if not determined, to utilize these local media in order to highlight local traits in abstraction, and to present his country and aspects of Arab identity in a contemporary way.
Ahmad was one of the first Qatari artists who joined al-Jasrah Cultural and Social Club (founded in 1960), taking part in its permanent exhibition in 1972. He also exhibited his work at the Three Friends Exhibition in 1977, 1978 and 1980; the Cairo Biennials in 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990 and 1992; the Friends of Fine Art Exhibitions of GCC countries from 1985 to 1990; the First International Festival of Fine Art in Baghdad in 1986 and 1988; the first collective Exhibition at al-Ahli Sports Club in 1986, and Ankara First International Euro-Asian Arts Biennial, Turkey in 1986 and 1988. Ahmad's first exhibition, held at the entrance of his home, dates back to 1963.
Ahmad has won several regional, and international awards and honors, and has widely exhibited at art fairs and biennials, gaining him international recognition. His works can be found in private collections including Sheikh Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al Thani, and others in Mexico, Switzerland, Sultanate of Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, United States of America; the Jordanian Museum for Modern Arts; the International Museum of Engravings, Asilah, Morocco; the British Museum, United Kingdom; and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar.
Ahmad has served as an Art Advisor for many art galleries in the Arab World. He is a member of the Qatar Award Jury and Hand Papermaking International Board of Advisors; currently serves as Senior Advisor at the Cultural Advisor Office, Qatar Foundation, in Doha, Qatar.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
|2014 ||Yousef Ahmad: Story of Ingenuity Exhibition, Qatar Museums Gallery in Katara, Doha, Qatar|
2012||The Shadow of Palm Fronds Exhibition, Art Space Gallery, Dubai, United Arab Emirates |
2011||Pages from History Exhibition, The St. Regis, Doha, Qatar|
2011 ||Full Moon Love Letters Exhibition, al-Markhiyyah Gallery, Doha, Qatar|
|2011||Made in Qatar Exhibition, Qatar International Exhibition Centre, Doha, Qatar|
2010||Qatar International Exhibition Center, in celebration of Doha capital of Arab Culture 2010 and the opening of Doha International Book Fair, Doha, Qatar|
|2007 ||The Movement Exhibition to mark the 30th anniversary of Yousef Ahmad's first solo exhibition, Qatar|
2004 ||Virginia Commonwealth University Gallery, Qatar, Doha|
|2003 ||Ahmad al-Adwani Gallery, KNC, Kuwait|
|2003||French Cultural Centre, Doha, Qatar|
|2000||Qatar Association of Plastic Arts, Doha, Qatar|
|1994||Gandhir Gallery, Kuwait|
|1983||Al-Khaleej Hotel, Doha, Qatar|
|1982||Washington DC, United States of America |
|1980 - 1981||Buffalo, United States of America|
|1977||National Museum, Doha, Qatar|
Selected Group Exhibitions
|2014||Summary, Part 1 Exhibition, Mathaf permanent collection, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar|
|2013||With AbdulRasoul Salman at visual art center gallery Doha, Qatar|
|2013 ||25 Years of Arab Creativity at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates |
|2013||Tasmeem Doha 2013, at Virginia Commonwealth University's, Doha, Qatar|
|2012 ||Mal Lawal Exhibition at QMA, Doha Qatar|
|2012 ||25 Years of Arab Creativity at the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France|
|2011 ||Swalif: Qatari Art between Memory and Modernity, at al-Riwaq Gallery, Doha, Qatar|
|2010||Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar|
|2009 ||With Mounirah Mosly and Ahmad Al Bahrani at Bait Muzna Gallery, Oman|
|2007||With Karima al-Shomali and Mohamed Kano, Metropolitana Gallery, Barcelona, Spain|
|2005 ||With Bahraini artist, Jamal Abdul Rahim, al-Majlis Gallery, Dubai, United Arab Emirates |
|1987, 2004 ||With the Kuwaiti artist, Abdul Rasul Salman, Kuwait|
Al-Ahli Sports Club, First Collective Exhibition, Doha, Qatar
|1985||With the American Muslim artist, Mohamed Zakariya, Doha, Qatar|
Selection of the artist's participation in Art Fairs and Biennials
|2012||Abu Dhabi Art Fair, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates|
|2010||The 18th Seoul International Art Festival Korea – MidEast "PEACE," Seoul, Korea|
|2010||14th Asian Art Biennial, Dhaka, Bangladesh|
|2009||Art Miami, Sundaram Gallery, United States of America|
|2009||Contemporary Arab art, New York, United States of America|
|2006||Language of Desert Exhibition, Arab World Institute, Paris, France|
|2005||Language of Desert Exhibition, Bonne Museum for Modern Art, Germany|
|2000||Exhibition of the Arabian Peninsula Artists, Amman, Jordan|
|1999||Bangladesh Seventh Contemporary Asian Art Exhibition, Dhaka|
|1999 ||Fifth Periodic Exhibition of Plastic Arts and Calligraphy, Doha, Qatar|
|1996||Sixth Cairo Biennial, Egypt|
|1990||Ankara Third International, Euro-Asian Art Exhibition, Turkey|
|1989||First Exhibition of GCC Artists, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia|
|1986||Ankara First International Euro-Asian Arts Biennial, Turkey|
|1986||First International Fine Arts Festival, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1984||First Cairo Biennial, Egypt|
|1984 ||Arab Calligraphers-Artists Exhibition, Graffiti Gallery, London|
|1977, 1978, 1980 ||Three Friends Exhibitions, open air exhibition, Doha, Qatar|
|1976||Second Arab Biennial, Rabat, Morocco|
|1974||First Arab Biennial, Baghdad, Iraq|
|1973 - 1985||Arab Biennial, Kuwait|
|1973||The General Exhibition, Gulf Hotel|
|1972||Permanent exhibition at al-Jasrah Cultural and Social Club, Doha, Qatar|
Awards and Honors
|2013||Received the Honorary Order of Merit at the level of the GCC for the whole of his career and his works of art|
|2010||Received a special recognition award during the Kuwait Biennial, Kuwait|
|2010||Won the Honorable Mention Award during the 14th Asian Art Biennial, Dhaka, Bangladesh|
|2006||Referees' Award, Al Kharafi First International Biennial of Contemporary Arab Art, Kuwait|
|2004||Third prize at Emaar's Art Assembly, Dubai, United Arab Emirates|
|2000||Abha Art Prize, Saudi Arabia|
|1999||Gold Palm, Fifth Exhibition of GCC Arts, Doha, Qatar|
|1999||Grand Prize of Seventh International Asian Biannual Dhaka|
|1998||Referees' Award, Cairo Seventh Biennial, Egypt|
|1998||First Prize Competition Qatar National Bank|
|1997 ||Special recognition by HH Sheikh Dr. Sultan Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, Sharjah Third Biennial, United Arab Emirates |
|1996||Referees' Award, Cairo sixth Biennial, Egypt|
|1996 ||Gold Palm, fourth GCC Artists Exhibition, Kuwait|
|1994 ||Golden Palm Leaf Award, Kuwait Third GCC States' Plastic Artists Exhibition|
|1993||First prize, Tourist Exhibition, Doha, Qatar|
|1991 ||Gold Palm, second GCC Artists Exhibition|
|1989 ||Gold Palm, first GCC Artists Exhibition|
|1986||Referees' Award, Ankara International Biennial|
|1986 ||Bronze medal, Cairo second Biennial, Egypt|
|1986 ||First prize, Baghdad International Festival of Fine Arts, Iraq|
|1984 ||Second prize, Gulf Air competition|
|1975, 1997, 1985||Three Certificates of recognition from the Arab Biennial Exhibition in Kuwait|
Modern and Contemporary art in Qatar, Friends of the Fine Art Society, al-Jasrah Cultural and Social Club, One Dimension group, the Three Friends, Huroufiyyah, calligraphy, abstraction, abstract art, aesthetics, Islamic art, the Arab League Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ALESCO), International Board of Advisor of Hand Papermaking, Inc.
Full Moon Love Letters. Photographed and designed by Mahmoud ChamsEddin Abbo. Dubai: PiuPlus Design, 2013.
Ahmad, Yousef. The Dancing Letters. Photographed and designed by Mahmoud ChamsEddin Abbo. Dubai: PiuPlus Design, 2013.
The Third – Dimention Mosaic. Photographed and designed by Mahmoud ChamsEddin Abbo. Dubai: PiuPlus Design, 2014.
Yousef Ahmad. French Translation by Dr. Farid Zahi, English Translation by Dr. Shaker Hassan, English edited by Maha Abdel-Moneim Abdel Maaboud Dubai: PiuPlus Design, 2007.
Ali, Wijdan. Modern Islamic Art: Development and Continuity. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997.
Interview with the artist Yousef Ahmad conducted by Samia Touati. 12 May 2014. Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar.
Interview with the artist Yousef Ahmad conducted by Yasser Mongy. 12 November 2014. Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar.
Shabout, Nada M.
Modern Arab Art: Formation of Aesthetics. Florida: University Press of Florida, 2007.
Touati, Samia. Email Exchanges and conversations with the Artist Youssef Ahmad. 16 - 26 March 2014, January and February 2015.
Swalif: Qatari Art between Memory and Modernity. Exhibition Catalogue, 14 August – 29 October 2011, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar. Doha: Qatar Museums Authority, Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, 2011.
Swalif: Qatari Art between Memory and Modernity. The Artists Talk: Jassim al-Zaini, Yousef Ahmad, Salman al-Malik, Hassan al-Mulla, Faraj Daham, Ali Hassan, Mohammed al-Atiq. Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, 2011. Duration: 2:46. Accessed February 16, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1d_ZkDKraA
Swalif: Qatari Art between Memory and Modernity. In Conversation 2: On Perceptions of Artists. A dialogue between Yousef Ahmed and Wafika Sultan Saif al-Essa, moderated by Fatima Mostafawi, Assistant Curator at Mathaf. Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, 2011. Duration: 1:05:09. Accessed February 16, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvaJmQ4Dk2Q
يوسف أحمد. الفنون التشكيلية المعاصرة في قطر. الدوحة: دار الكتب القطرية، 1986.
جمال السجيني. الفن التشكيلي في قطر. الدوحة: منشورات وزارة الإعلام، 1988.
غازي انعيم. الفنان القطري يوسف أحمد: التجريب وبلاغة التحولات. مجلة التشكيلي العربي.
حسان عطوان. الحياة التشكيلية في قطر. بحث أنثربولوجي نقدي. كتاب الخليج.3 قطر: الطبعة الأولى من إصدارالمؤلف، 1988.
عبد الرسول سلمان. التشكيل المعاصر ف يدول مجلس التعاون الخليجي. الكويت: طبع شركة المطبعة العصرية، 1984.
عبد الرسول سلمان. أصدقاء الفن التشكيلي. الدوحة: مطابع الدوحة الحديثة المحدودة، 1996.
عبد الرزاق عُكاشَة. من ك لقُطرعربي فنانٌ تشكيليٌّ. بينالي في كتاب. الجزءالأول. باريس: المنتدى الثقافي العالمي، 2000.
مقابلة مع الفنان يوسف أحمد. جريدة السياسة الكويتية، العدد رقم 2942، 1986.
"يوسف أحمد". المعرض الأول للفنان في قاعة متحف قطر الوطني، من 3 إلى 9 آذار/ مارس 1977. وزارة الإعلام والمركز الثقافي، قطر. الدوحة: مطابع العهد، 1977.
"In Conversation 2: On Perceptions of Artists in Qatar." A dialogue between Yousef Ahmad, Wafika Sultan Saif al-Essa, moderated by Fatima Mostafawi, Assistant Curator at Mathaf. 28 November 2011. Accessed September 16, 2014.
شوكت الربيعي. الفن التشكيلي المعاصر في الوطن العربي 1885 - 1985. القاهرة: الهيئة المصرية العامة للكتاب، دارالكتب، 1988.
عادل كامل. الحركة التشكيلية المعاصرة في العراق، مرحلة الرواد. وزارة الثقافة والإعلام. الجمهورية العراقية: سلسلة الكتب الفنية (43)، 1980.