There’s a rather beautiful exhibition in a gallery behind King’s Cross that looks at the Garden of Eden and the concept of Paradise in Islam.
The layout of the exhibition itself reflects the classic chahar bagh garden design (meaning four gardens), with four zones on the walls, and a static waterfall in the middle. That layout means that the modern artwork is mixed in around reproductions of garden-related works from the archive in the Aga Khan Museum.
The artwork is a mix of styles from strictly geometric though to “Arabian nights” style illustrations which are eye-poppingly beautiful in their detail and quality of the composition.
Dotted around are some more abstract modern works. The plates seen close up turn out to be 3D artworks, while a number of casts of plats look almost as if someone has punched them out by hand from a sheet of bronze.
Possibly one of the most detailed pieces of needlework you will ever see was created by the Royal School of Needlework and took around 200 hours to complete.
Dominating the room though is a huge painting that tells the story of a conference of birds who go on a quest to seek a new lord. It’s an allegory of how to be a good person, with each of the bird’s personalities being virtues to aspire to or sins to avoid.
The room is filled with the sounds of bird twittering, as you would expect for a garden of paradise, and harder to notice through a facemask (if you wear one), there’s apparently a fragrance in the room as well.
Do read the notes, otherwise, you might miss one of the more interesting stories – of two male lovers meeting in a garden. From a time when male love was rather more tolerated in Islam than it is today, alas.
The exhibition is frankly, just beautiful to look at, and if you’ve never seen that style of artwork before, also worth seeking out for that experience alone.
Although the artworks on display harken to the ideal of the paradise garden, the Aga Khan charity builds modern gardens around the world, and a film in a corner shows them off. Note, the rather interesting documentary in the corner about the Aga Khan gardens regularly mentions a wonderful looking garden they’ve built in Edmonton. Before you start planning a visit, the garden is sadly in Edmonton, Canada, not Edmonton, North London.
The exhibition, Making Paradise is open until 30th September and entry is free. You need to book a ticket from here.