Without Boundary: Seventeen Ways of Looking

Raqib Shaw
The Garden of Earthly Delights III
2003

Raqib Shaw. The Garden of Earthly Delights III. 2003

(b. 1974 in Calcutta, India, lives and works in London) Mixed media on board. Three panels, overall: 10 x 15' (305 x 407.5 cm), each panel: 10 x 5' (305 x 152.5 cm). Private Collection, courtesy Victoria Miro Gallery, London. © Raqib Shaw. Photograph: courtesy Victoria Miro Gallery, London Audio courtesy of Acoustiguide

RAQIB SHAW: My name is Raqib Shaw and I came from Kashmir. I live and work in London.

FERESHTEH DAFTARI: It took Shaw nine months to make The Garden of Earthly Delights, Number 3. In spite of its size, its richly colored surface and attention to detail unmistakably recall traditional Persian miniatures. Shaw draws from multiple sources But his primary inspiration was a wildly imaginative vision of worldly pleasures called The Garden of Earthly Delights by the late 15th-early 16th-century Dutch artist Hieronymous Bosch.

RAQIB SHAW: I wanted to do my own Garden of Earthly Delights, a garden that would be incredibly autobiographical, and highly coded, but also a garden that would enable me to share my sensibility to the rest of the world. And I would call it (Laughs) a vision of earthy delights gone drastically wrong.

It is basically a very enterprising theater that reflects humanness. You know, we have moments of exhilaration, we have moments of celebration, but in this painting what I really wanted to deal with was the moment when we actually have an orgasm. And the French have a fantastic word for orgasm which is "petit mort", and I do think that every orgasm (Laughs), it is the little death.

Every single body that you see in this painting is based on my own body, the only body that is not my body is the body of the king. This is the guy with a toucan beak. And that is the body of the gay porn star Jeff Stryker. (Laughs) So that's the way this painting was made from an emotional point of view.

When you move down into the left side of the painting, you see a figure. He's trying to deal with a shark that is unexpectedly come his way, and he's engaging in a bit of self-pleasure.

And when you move down into the painting you see a giant shrimp having sex with a man on a bed of seaweed. And this image for me is very much like the question of sexual preference. What is the sexual object? Is it another man? Is it another woman? Is it another animal; is it a bird; is it a flower?

Look at the shoal of the fish that decide to descend from the left-hand side. The shoal actually unites the whole painting. And if you look into the eyes of every fish, they are embedded with a tiny aquamarine, because I wanted them to have that sparkle in the eye. And the crown of the king in the middle is cut Kashmir sapphires.

Everything that I have done and seen in my life is ground up very, very fine and put in a huge cauldron, and I put my hand in and I take out what I need to say. And it is very important for me to deal with the issues of painting, issues of pictorial space, issues of color, issues of composition that I think are directly derived from the great masters.

I do hope and I do wish that people see divinity in these paintings. It's like embracing beauty instead of cynicism. Aesthetics are the heart and soul of human nature. And let's embrace it without any pretense, without having these masks that we wear. Because the work is made from a place of no inhibitions. There are no moral policeman, there is no morality, it is what it is, and it is happy to be what it is, it is loving to be what it is, and are you willing to come and join the fun?

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