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Raqib Shaw: Absence of God Opens at Kunsthalle Wien
Raqib Shaw, Absence of God VI (Detail), 2009, © the artist, Photo: Todd-White Art Photography, Courtesy White Cube.

VIENNA.- Raqib Shaw’s work offers a view of paradise and hell both at the same time – an exuberant creation of worlds marked by an absence of religious systems. “God is dead” might be the Occidental equivalent, in the shape of a Nietzschean philosophy, to Shaw’s morality of a liberated art based on the absence of God.

Born in Calcutta in 1974 and brought up in Muslimdominated Kashmir, Raqib Shaw was educated by Hindu teachers at a Christian school before taking up his studies at the Central St. Martin’s School of Art in London, in 1998. The son of a trader family has allowed himself to be inspired in equal parts by Asiatic and Arabic décor, such as kimono textiles, antique rugs, Persian jewellery and Japanese woodcuts, and equally so by objects at the London Natural History Museum.

His phantasmagorias and picture puzzles, whose surfaces abound with a finely chased filigree, enamel, glitter, and gold, boldly demanding the viewer’s attention, are populated with hybrid human and animal entities and fabulous creatures, such as, for instance, the Blind Butterfly Catcher. Violence and perversion, excess and eccentricity take turns in occupying centre stage in the ornamental and finally detailed works of this artist. Only someone capable of creating art with such an extrariparian sense of beauty can dare to claim, as Shaw does, that, “I do not know what beauty means in contemporary art.”

Raqib Shaw’s “art of exquisite anxiety”, his visual overexcitation, pits the flat expanse of plane surfaces against the depth of threedimensional space, figuration vs. abstraction, the compositional overview vs. getting lost in the love for detail. Arabesque pattern formations dissolve as they approach the boundaries of the aesthetically familiar.

The orgiastic works of Raqib Shaw shake of the world as we know it, creating a New Arcadia, which likes to calm its nervous tensions by referring back to the decadence of the fin de siècle era, and historical precedents, including the works of a Hans Holbein the Younger, the uncanny architectural fictions of a Giovanni Battista Piranesi or Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.

The show at the project space of Kunsthalle wien presents new works from the Absence of God series, in juxtaposition with the hyperrealistic sculpture, Adam. This is a statue that could be understood as an alter ego of the artist, who, himself, leads quite an eccentric lifestyle – depicting, as it does, a lifesized human body with a bird’s head. Caught in the claws of a lobster it represents the enforced mating of the birdman (a melding of earth and air) with the crayfish (i.e., water.) With its jaw cleft widely ajar and overrunning with worms and maggots it is reminiscent of Francis Bacon’s Scream, which keeps turning up in leitmotif fashion throughout Shaw’s oeuvre. It symbolises the flaw of human existence, which, according to traditional psychoanalysis, cannot ever be rectified.

Kunsthalle Wien | Raqib Shaw | Vienna | Muslim | Giovanni Battista Piranesi | Hieronymus Bosch |

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