Learning to Learn: Paradise Has Many Gates

ADST - Any Grade

This unit of inquiry is not a recipe book but rather a launchpad to inspire new BIG IDEAS. We encourage you to use and/or modify one, or several of the BIG IDEAS below. Adapt it to the grade/ ability level of your students.


Learning to Learn: Curriculum No. 1 for 2018-2020 Vancouver Biennale Exhibition
Title: Paradise Has Many Gates: Vanier Park, Vancouver
Ajlan Gharem (b. 1985, Saudi Arabia)
Medium: Plexiglass, aluminium


Art Inquiry

Project images of Paradise Has Many Gates and encourage students to explore the Mosque in person at Vanier Park during a field trip. Art enquiry is a conduit for students to practice observing, describing, interpreting, and sharing visual and physical information in a social manner. Literacy, from scientific to cultural, should be the re-IMAGE-n-ing that occurs here. It allows students to open themselves up to their own considerations of the world and to be compassionate to others. Use the Art Inquiry Worksheet (PDF) to guide and capture their ideas and impressions. Customize or create your own Art Inquiry Worksheet as appropriate for your project and class needs.

Shared Insights

  • Share the Art Enquiry ExperienceAsk students how they respond to the mosque and what its shape using a chain-linked fence means to them. Is the material form something that provokes anxiety and looks like a cage or can it be seen as a way to make permeable cultures that are sometimes foreign to us? Have they ever felt imprisoned or known someone who has been?

Grades 5-12: Permeability can be linked to Biology and their Science Courses with a link to “creative osmosis”. This conversation can extend to Socials as well as the core competencies encouraged in Applied Design, Skills, and Technologies classes. As a part of ASL Learning for schools that offer it, what gestures can be learned to interact with the Mosque without sight and without hearing?

For those K-4, storytelling about their own traditions would complement a visit to the site. Give anyone who feels comfortable to share what they wrote on the Art Inquiry Worksheet a chance to read it aloud as a part of circle sharing. This is also an opportunity to assign students an exercise in making—a mosque out of whatever material inspires them. Simple items like paper, straws, or popsicle sticks will encourage the children’s dexterity.


Here are exercises: both in digital format (Robotics or CAD classes and 5-12 targeted) or physical (K-12) formats like this origami project or this pop-up card for older students | this pop-up card for younger students. Please use these in coordination with your artist collaborator.

Research: Artist Theme

In small groups students rotate between information stations detailing the artist’s life and work. Start with priming the students with an interactive activity such as Inside the Mosque: What do You Need To Know? Station topics can include: (1) the shapes, forms, and motifs worked into the structure; (2) the artist’s history of making artwork and why multiculturalism is important to him; (3) materials and the processes the artist went through to build the structure; (4) beliefs and values, both cultural and/or religious. At each station, students should answer 1-2 questions and complete a tangible task. For example, at the station “the shapes, forms, and motifs worked into the structure”, students might attempt to draught a small architectural version of a space that unites us all using the origami project. Further, older students could create out of cardstock a 1:30 scale model or an exploded axonometric draught of the installation.

  • Artist Themes – Imprisonment, Isolation, and Anxiousness: Observe images of Paradise Has Many Gates online and ask students to identify patterns and reflect on what the patterns remind them of. Ask them to make a stencil of carpet patterns, a rubbing of the fence, or a written “concrete” poem that reflects the mosque aesthetic.


Inquiry Challenges

  • Patterns Investigation: In small groups, challenge students to create a dance to a piece of music using the carpets or the stencils available as their choreography. Video the movements and review against walking patterns (bee movements, pyrrhic dances, for example).

Student Creation and Taking Action

Create a space (e.g. school assembly in the gymnasium) for the students to build a space that is inclusive and penetrative of all cultures out of unusual material. Foam is easily cut and lightweight. Extruded Polystyrene is also a good material and is paintable.



  • Teacher and students can reflect on their entire learning process by revisiting the Enduring Understanding and relevant Guiding Questions.
  • How did the unit of study open inquiry, create cross–curricular learning opportunities and/or apply learning to real life situations? Has this unit of inquiry changed your opinions, values and world view? In what ways, if any, has it helped you grow as a learner?


Ideas for Cross-Curricular Access

  • Mathematics – Patterns and Relations: In small groups, create rhizomatic woven projects with a specific calculative matrix.
  • Physical Education– Active Living – Physical literacy: In small groups, challenge students to create a workout routine based on yoga and other salutations.
  1. Balance: Eagle pose and half moon pose
  2. Strength: Low lunge and Warrior II pose
  3. Heart Strength: Chair pose
  4. Recovery: Happy baby, Child’s pose, and Shavasana
    • Social Studies – Human and Physical Environment:Ask students to review the different races and migrations to BC over the past 50 years and present the trend through mapping (this can be a drawing or even a peg board with nails and thread). Discuss the importance of homeland and belongingness. Can we heal the divide? First Nations and Canadians should be included in this conversation.


Written by: Rachel Anne Farquharson, 2018, Director of BIG IDEAS 2017/2018

©2018 Vancouver Biennale