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Cai Guo-Qiang's explosive new exhibit

It would be fair to say that Cai Guo-Qiang is “blowing up” on the art scene. Since the mid-80s, Guo-Qiiang – who grew up within spitting distance of a Chinese military base – has been making unusual paintings with gunpowder and other explosive materials. His charred, smoke-covered canvasses, some of which look like they might have been recovered from actual disaster scenes, capture the duality between destruction and creation by shockingly literal means. You’ve likely already seen one of his most memorable installations without even knowing it: in 2008, Guo-Qiang designed the opening fireworks and explosives for the Beijing Summer Olympics as its Director of Visual Effects. Clearly, this is evidence that I should have cultivated my early pyrophile tendencies as a child, because I’d definitely be famous by now.

Guo-Qiang’s latest exhibit is sparking even more attention than his Olympic fanfare. Slated to open next week at the Mathaf Museum in Doh, Qatar, the artist added an interactive element to his usual design process by inviting local residents to help him make a new series of gunpowder drawings. Taken together, the series of large-scale canvases traces sea routes of the old Silk Road from Arabia to Quanzhou—a particularly appropriate choice of subject matter given that this is the artist’s first solo exhibit in the Middle East.

A new video released by the museum offers a close-up look at the kind of work that goes into producing Guo-Qiang’s remarkable canvasses. In addition to burqa-clad ladies helping to ignite gunpowder tracks, you can see the enormous explosion that was required for a 50-foot canvas depicting hundreds of running horses.