I recently attended an evening organised for members of London's Institute of Contemporary Arts to showcase the work of Indian-born, London-based artist, Raqib Shaw - an artist who is known for his opulent and intricately detailed paintings of imagined paradises, inlaid with vibrantly coloured jewels and enamels.
Allow me to share my impressions...
You enter his secret space, a building that used to be a sausage factory, or at least something in that vein. You open the door of this unassuming place, hidden away in deepest South London; it was a dark and cold Autumn night... Through this door you are transported to another world, like Alice who is suddenly in a fantasy.
You walk through an amazing lush garden filled with exotic plants and in the middle of this generous and abundant setting fires are dotted around - huge chunky logs burning in bowls, smelling divine. Already a sensory adventure was surrounding me. At the end of an alley you are welcomed into Raqib Shaw's salon and there you are exposed to a heavenly vision; an explosion of deep red roses and sumptuous hydrangeas. Your eyes can't really absorb all of it in just once glance. The gorgeous bouquets of red roses are overwhelming the place with their velvet petals and their heady scent. There are sensuous red and gold chaises and sofas, red candles are burning in all corners of the room. Poufs are scattered on the floor, inviting you to lie on them, Indian musicians are playing, their lingering music giving us a taste and a sense of the past, of a world of the lost Maharajas.
And where is Raqib? In his garden of Bonsai of course! He is passionately describing his delicate and extraordinary friends who reign supreme in their garden-gallery. Such Bonsais I have never seen before, offering such beauty, intricateness, and grandeur in their tiny forms.
And Raqib is so excited about their life, their well-being, the way they were brought into his life...
And Raqib is laughing. The laugh of Raqib! This is him, his laugh is as a heart that opens itself to life and to the world with extreme joy, passion, eccentricity, vibrancy. You want to hear it, the vibrant joy of life. He is embarking with you on a voyage, you are no longer in your own life, you are immersed willingly in his world of passion, sensuality, beauty, folly and more...
Within this incredible evening came delicious food and beautiful music. Raqib invited a quartet to play as an opera singer created some beautiful arias. Yes this is how life should be lived and Raqib knows how to live! And yet Raqib has a special look in his eyes: very profound and intense but at the same time extremely open and giving. Raqib is surrounded with a few very wonderful people, who work with him, dedicatedly creating his universe with him. We visited his ateliers of drawing, of painting, of sculpture, of... creativity! We visited an entire building organised for all his activities, complete with beehives of the roof terrace.
Raqib Shaw is one of the most acclaimed and most collected artists at work today. He is defying the fashionable rigor of the minimalist. He is the complete antithesis, both in his life and even more so in the prolific, meticulous and extravagant art he creates.
It was hard to depart his world and return to what seemed like the dull and cold reality of everyday life when we left that building in South London, but we were promised that he will create another dream in the warm season for us and then I will share once again in this mesmerising fantasy!
Karen Ruimy is co-founder of the GREAT initiative (Gender Rights & Equality Action Trust) www.thegreatinitiative.com. Her new album Come With Me is available for download from iTunes http://bit.ly/145noRw.