Over time, pioneering Qatari artist Yousef Ahmed’s work has undergone a gradual yet radical evolution. Traditional calligraphic forms of the Arabic alphabet have metamorphosed to become abstracted shapes inspired by the flexibility of Arab letters. Ahmed’s works have always sought to express cultural and national emotions, rather than a particular textual meaning.

Furthermore, Ahmed has turned his attention from the letters themselves – their shape, their form – to the material of his media. He has incorporated new materials to use in his painting by developing new forms of paper and working with local natural resources, such as palm fronds. By focusing on the palm, a common tree in Qatar, Ahmed seeks to remind viewers of the importance of daily life and the richness of its undulations. Through abstraction, he emancipates the Arabic letter from the burden of linguistic meaning. By using new materials, he transforms it into an aesthetic object that can be understood without reading.

Palms play an integral role in his recent works as well. Frustrated by what he felt to be the confines of working with a single, two-dimensional surface, Ahmed has transitioned into the three-dimensional realm, liberating the letter completely to create mixed media sculptures. He painstakingly pulps palm fronds and adds colour, using age-old techniques to produce sheets of paper, each with its own unique shade and texture. These sheets are then cut into sections and rolled into finger-sized tubes before being slotted into a grid to create a three dimensional mosaic. Up to 15,000 tubes are used to create a single composition, filling the framework that Ahmed has set out to look like a net. For the artist, it is the paper’s translucence and the changing light and shadow created by the viewing angle that combine to create a virtually infinite interplay of moods and impressions. He draws on practices as diverse as the rigid discipline of engineering to chaos theory, deliberately forming clusters of different stimuli that are packed at different degrees of inclination, height and colour, with each element playing an integral role in the overall balance of the structure.

These new sculptural works have allowed Ahmed to express himself in a previously unavailable depth and complexity. He combines the surgeon-like meticulousness of engraving with the glory of building, creating waves of scrolls in different shapes. These scrolls create colour contrasts, both amongst themselves as well as against the black interior of each grid frame. Some pieces present the precision of thousands of scrolls, while others juxtapose them with shredded paper or molded letter-like shapes. Ahmed seeks to elevate the senses, the scroll works reminiscent of an aerial view of a gathering of pilgrims aiming for spiritual ascension and purity, a visual illusion that inspires infinite modes of thinking and an invitation for new discoveries wherever the gaze falls. These thousands of frond rolls form a new visual speech, at once microscopic and macroscopic, rigid and fluid, part of an artistic language, which, for Ahmed, is ever in motion..