“Putting on art shows at Kew is a many-layered experience in a unique environment, quite unlike any other museum or gallery in which I’ve worked during my career.
The gallery is in the middle of the botanic gardens and is fully embedded in all our thinking and programming. It enhances the visitor experience and offers a different dimension to connecting with nature, while shining a light on some of the hidden work we do at Kew.
In a science organisation such as ours, artists can often be the best-placed people to communicate some complicated ideas, spreading a message in a non-academic, non-scary way.
This piece, for example, is visually spectacular and provides a real ‘wow’ moment for visitors. It is one of two works that Pakistani-American artist Anila Quayyum Agha has provided for our current dual exhibitions, which explore the themes of faith, cultural connectedness and the evolution of art inspired by the natural world.
A giant laser-cut steel cube is suspended from the ceiling; it is in cobalt blue and contains a single light source that shines outwards.
Each of the cube’s six separate sections features fretwork patterns – drawn from botanical imagery and traditional Islamic art and architecture – that cast huge, intricate shadows on to the walls, floor and ceiling, as well as everyone who enters the gallery.
We hope that people will feel immersed in the aesthetic of the work and have something approaching a spiritual experience.
The artist is keen on the idea of bringing people together to share a quiet moment in a remarkable space, away from the distractions of a restless world.
People familiar with the style of the 19th-century designer William Morris will feel as if they are walking into an illuminated version of his famous wallpaper designs –they become part of the artwork itself.
Interestingly, the artist’s other piece in the show – Stealing Moments (After Morris and Dürer) I and II – is a work in mirrored stainless steel inspired both by Morris in general and, in particular, the German artist Albrecht Dürer’s amazingly detailed watercolour from 1503, Great Piece of Turf, which is considered to be one of the most realistic studies of nature.
Before encountering Agha’s pieces, visitors will pass through our complementary exhibition, Plants of the Qur’an, which comprises 25 new paintings by Sue Wickison, a botanical illustrator at Kew.
She has recorded plants such as garlic, pomegranate and date palms with great scientific accuracy during her travels throughout the Middle East over recent years.
Wickison has worked alongside Kew scientist Shahina Ghazanfar to explore these plants’ cultural context and their role in modern medicine, as food sources and as cultivated plants around the world.
The multi-sensory experience does not stop there; stepping outside, visitors can explore the sights, sounds and smells of Kew’s 340 acres of incredible biodiversity and gardens of every kind.”
Interview by John Holt. All the Flowers Are for Me and Plants of the Qur’an is at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, until 17 September