Making Paradise Exhibition

Making Paradise: Exploring the concept of Eden through Art & Islamic Garden Design opens 29 April at the Aga Khan Centre Gallery, London. It is a privilege to have been invited by the exhibition and Gallery's gifted curator and artist Esen Kaya to make a new artwork for this multi-sensory show and exhibit alongside incredible international artists including 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, Masako Newton, Karen Nicol, Olga Prinku, Shorsh Saleh, Soraya Syed and Ross P Taylor.

Despite the many challenges faced by the global pandemic, Esen has brought her beautiful vision of Making Paradise which "aims to evoke a sense of delight and wonder around the concept of Paradise" to breathtaking fruition. With consultation from acclaimed garden designer Emma Clark 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."

An enormous thank you Esen for the opportunity, it is an honour to be part of such an exquisite and illuminating exhibition.

Dear Hoopoe and Dear Nightingale Ceramic Tiles

For the Making Paradise artwork Esen suggested I explore the poem The Conference of the Birds by 12th century Sufi poet, Attar. When I reflect upon Eden, birds are the epitome of beauty and fragility in all their splendorous, diverse plumage, heralding their presence in the Garden of Paradise with their jubilant song.

The Conference or Canticle of the Birds tells of the Birds of the World gathering to decide who should be their King. The protagonist is the wisest of birds, the Hoopoe which immediately inspired me as I encountered this impressive species once, in a place that is dear to me in France. Magnificent birds with their distinctive coral, black and white plumage, their piece de resistance is a pied crown of feathers.

Inspired by my passion for ceramics I was compelled to create a diptych of blue tiles, woven with Islamic Patterns. Having read about Samarkand and its blue domes and minarets many years ago in the book Eastern Approaches by Fiztroy McLean I decided to explore the patterned tiles of the opulent Shah-i-Zinda. Also inspired by Nelson Byrd Woltz’s beautiful Garden of Light at the Aga Khan Centre, she researched the tiles from the extraordinary Alhambra Palace.

Aside from the Hoopoe, there are several avian characters featured in the poem therefore I researched which species inhabit Iran. I created blue biro drawings for the designs which were sent to prestigious ceramic manufacturers the New English ceramic of Stoke-on-Trent, who produced the tiles for the exhibition.

It has been a gift to receive the opportunity to make drawings of birds for the exhibition as having just moved house my husband and I are in the process of creating a wildlife garden, so this artwork feels like a celebration of the many avian visitors the garden is already attracting.

Dear Hoopoe 2020
Ceramic tile featuring original blue Biro drawing

Dear Hoopoe portrays the hoopoe open beaked as he speaks to the gathered birds of their quest and the difficult journey they must make to search for their King. The Hoopoe is puffed up with self-importance, crown displayed in triumph. The white space to the left of design signifies an opening for the Hoopoe’s voice to carry forth to the second design Dear Nightingale where more birds are gathered.

To the right of the hoopoe listening intently is an Alexandrine Parakeet, a Eurasian Eagle owl, an Upland Buzzard and a Goliath Heron. The birds are layered through the angular pattern of a tile from the Alhambra Palace which reflects the Hoopoe's wisdom.

Dear Nightingale 2020
Ceramic tile featuring original blue Biro drawing

Dear Nightingale depicts one of the world’s most famous songbirds. The tile pattern Jane chose as the foundation of this design is from Shah-i-Zinda and entwined with roses which symbolise the nightingale’s representation in the poem as the lover. However the nightingale known for its alluring song remains tight beaked as it listens to the Hoopoe’s words.

Interlaced through the pattern is a Green Peafowl which represents another member of the avian cast, the peacock. Jane selected this species as they too are exquisite yet unlike the peacock, they are endangered, which reflects her interest in threatened species. Also featured is a Dead Sea Sparrow and a Turtle Dove another species that is listed globally as vulnerable.

Image courtesy of Aga Khan Centre Gallery: centre artwork by Zarah Hussain





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