Paradise Has Many Gates
Ajlan Gharem, Saudi Arabia
Title: Paradise Has Many Gates
Artist: Ajlan Gharem (b. 1985, Saudi Arabia)
Medium: Plexiglass, aluminum, rolled steel, paint, electric lights
Dimensions (H x W x D): 300 × 1000 × 650 cm (118 x 394 x 256 inches)
Former Location: Sen̓áḵw – Vanier Park, Vancouver
Update September 2021: Aljan Gharem is the 2021 winner of the prestigious Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics, which reflects the ways in which Islamic Art and culture remain rich sources of inspiration for contemporary design.
During its installation for the 2018-2020 Vancouver Biennale exhibition, this artwork, created from chain-link fence, evoked feelings of imprisonment and anxiousness by way of its caged structure. By designing the structure in the form of a mosque, an Islamic sacred and community space, young Saudi Arabian artist Ajlan Gharem wished to question the role of religion in society, especially amongst a younger generation for whom ideas and knowledge are valued over traditional religious and spiritual beliefs. Conceived as a space to gather and exchange ideas, Paradise Has Many Gates came alive through the work of countless community partners and visitors. The work inspired a historic collaboration amongst Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Islamic weavers and designers that led to two Vancouver Biennale exhibitions that are now touring nationally and internationally: Weaving Cultural Identities and Threads Through Time.
We saw performances, poetry readings, prayers, dialogues, Multicultural Day celebrations and school field trips take place here. We collaborated with Museum of Vancouver, Indian Summer Festival, Vancouver Maritime Museum, and the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies at Simon Fraser University.
The spirit of intercultural dialogue continues, and we are excited to be collaborating with other global partners to reinstall this internationally, where it may continue to be activated as a catalyst for community engagement, difficult conversations, and connection.
In a world of mass migration and refugee crises, this artwork invites us to think about the role of fences as physical and psychological deterrents that can isolate and divide people and ideas. Is this mosque, located in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, inviting us all, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, to see through what traditionally divides us and look toward creating experiences that will unite us?
Watch the Installation Video
The Jameel Prize