Paradise Has Many Gates

Ajlan Gharem, Saudi Arabia


TitleParadise 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: Ajlan Gharem was announced as the winner of the 2021 Jameel Prize, a prestigious international prize devoted to contemporary design inspired by Islamic tradition. For this sixth edition, over 400 entries were received from designers all over the world. An international jury, which included two past winners of the Jameel Prize, selected eight finalists for the Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (September 18 to November 28, 2021) and chose Gharem as the 2021 winner. “As this year’s Jameel Prize winner, Ajlan Gharem’s work speaks to global conditions and the experience of migrants, as well as being particularly resonant in its local context,” said Victor and Albert director and Jameel Prize jury chair Tristram Hunt. “The transparent wireframe references border fencing but has the effect of demystifying the mosque for non-Muslim viewers. We also commend the use of the installation as a space for cross-cultural connection and community gathering,” continued Hunt. The Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics exhibition, which showcased the work of eight designers from India, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the UK,  and toured to two international venues, thus affording further opportunities for viewers to see ways in which Islamic art and culture remain rich sources of inspiration for contemporary design throughout the globe.

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 local First Nations (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 artwork 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 artwork inviting us all, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, to see through what traditionally divides us and look toward creating experiences that will unite us?

Photos: roaming-the-planet


Watch the Installation Video


The Jameel Prize

Jameel Prize winner announcement, September 2021

Jameel Prize shortlist announcement, March 2021


Press Coverage

Montecristo Magazine

The Georgia Straight

Arab News

Sculpture Magazine