Making Paradise 

Exploring the concept of Eden through Art & Islamic Garden Design

extended until 25 October 2021

The Making Paradise exhibition brings together a variety of approaches that explore the concept of al-Janna, the Garden of Eden and the concept of Paradise in Islam. More than 130 verses in the Qur’an mention or refer to Paradise, this being a clear indication of how central this theme is to the faith of Islam and to the spirituality of Islam. The atmosphere of Paradise is repeatedly described, not only in the Qur’an but also in myriads of works of spiritual literature and poetry, as an expanse of luxuriant, verdant and shady gardens, irrigated by rivers, ponds and fountains. In these post-Qur’anic works, the gardens of Paradise are also represented as secular realms of social intercourse, pleasure, romance and diplomacy, as well as a retreat from the hardships of work, conflict and a harsh environment.

This multi-sensory exhibition, Making Paradise, aims to evoke a sense of delight and wonder around the concept of Paradise. The exhibition invites us to be inspired by the visual interpretations of Paradise made by artists from across the world. Their work illustrates diverse approaches to the subject through a variety materials and processes — from classical miniature painting, Islamic geometry and pattern, hand-stitched textiles, traditional ceramic work and calligraphy to modern appliqué and painting techniques.

Making Paradise exhibition is unlike many conventional and minimalist gallery layouts, as its aim is to convey and reflect the abundance of what we anticipate may exist in Paradise and to allow the visitor to experience the sheer luxuriousness of vision enhanced by the additions of sensory elements such as the perfumed ecosphere and the gentle soundscape.

In order to display the numerous artworks depicting the luscious trees, flowers and fruits you may expect to find in a garden, the exhibition layout represents the classic chahar bagh garden design (meaning four gardens) which can be understood as an interpretation of the four gardens of Paradise mentioned in Sura 55 (al-Rahman) in the Qur’an:

And for him, who fears to stand before his Lord, are two gardens…
And beside them are two other gardens.

The quadrilateral garden itself is divided by walkways or by flowing water into four smaller parts. In the exhibition, the gallery’s four walls have become these symbolic quadrants, adorned with both contemporary and historical art works. This approach is purposefully unconventional and juxtaposes contemporary art works with digital reproductions of garden-related works from the collections of the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto. Equally, beautiful botanical illustrations from Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Library collection are paired alongside contemporary works, further suggesting the rich offerings of fruit and vegetation in a Paradise garden. The selection of works shown has taken into consideration the trees, fruits and flowers mentioned in the Qur’an.

Making Paradise exhibition includes a bespoke perfume that has been created to stimulate the senses, as well as a soundscape which provides a delightful and paradisaic ecosphere with its gentle sounds of water and birdsong.

Visitors may also view a short film depicting the many historical garden restoration projects accomplished around the world by the Aga Khan Development Network as well as new public gardens created to enhance the environment and ameliorate the lives of those living or working nearby. Crucially, the film conveys the message of His Highness the Aga Khan regarding the significance of gardens as important spaces that build bridges, bring communities together and act as catalysts for change, particularly relevant in this time of growing nationalism and the migration of cultures and identities.

Making Paradise exhibition is curated by Esen Kaya, gallery curator at The Aga Khan Centre, with the renowned garden designer Emma Clark as consultant. The exhibition also includes the work of the perfumer Alessandro Cancian and sound recordist Geoff Sample. The visual artists represented are Farkhondeh Ahmadzadeh, Veeda Ahmed, Mohammad Barrangi, Jung Byun, Clare Celeste Börsch, Jethro Buck, Rachel Dein, Ayesha Gamiet, Yasmin Hayat, Sharmina Haq, Zarah Hussain, Olga Lobanova, Jane Lee McCracken, Masako Newton, Karen Nicol, Olga Prinku, Shorsh Saleh, Soraya Syed and Ross P Taylor.

Making Paradise exhibition is presented by Aga Khan Foundation UK, Aga Khan University – Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations and The Institute of The Ismaili Studies. The exhibition is also in partnerships with Aga Khan Trust for Culture, The Aga Khan Museum, The Royal Horticultural Society Lindley Library, the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts and the Royal School of Needlework.