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Rhapsody in Four Colours in development at AKC in King’s Cross. Photo: Sumner

Rhapsody for you

Rhapsody in Four Colours rises like a colossus from the heart of the new Aga Khan Centre at King’s Cross. Nestled behind brutalist glass complexes and old grain stores now trendy office suites, the AKC is a centre for education, knowledge, cultural exchange and insight into Muslim civilizations. Ross Clifford sings its praises and explores the local connection.

Quite a far cry from Hastings. But we’ll come to that later. For now, all eyes on the artwork — a soaring 35-metre high sculpture that celebrates the relationship between 20th century geometric abstraction and the achievements of Islamic civilisation. The immediacy of the installation’s appeal is down to not only its scale, but the thousands of dazzling plastic coloured shards incorporated in its complex construction. It’s one of several ambitious art commissions for the Kings Cross Project and spread across the 67 acre span of that previously art-poor neighbourhood.

Rasheed Araeen, the 84 year old mastermind behind the installation, is one of the foremost avant-garde artists of our time. A Karachi-born, London-based conceptual artist, sculptor, painter, writer and curator. Since his 1964 arrival in the capital he has been working as a visual artist bridging life, art and activism. “My life in Britain has been my struggle against the establishment. It took many forms—within art, outside art, in writing, in performances, in writing letters to Downing Street,” Araeen has said; the voice of an outsider driven by a need to express and defend the truth.

Rasheed Araeen. Photo: Alex Schneideman

Following reactions to the 2005 London bombings—in particular accusations made by members of the establishment that Muslims were against modernism, that they were backward, uncultured and uncivilised, were a spur for Araeen to set the record straight. Muslims have contributed to British modernism plentifully since the ’60s he argued. Their techniques, designs and the decorative originality of Orientalism have crept into and enriched European art since the 1900s. Araeen himself created vibrantly beautiful lattice design paintings that were nominated for the John Moores painting prize in 1969. Now Rhapsody in Four Colours carries that challenge further and beyond the flat surface into outsized three-dimensional space.

So when Rasheed Araeen handed a sketch of his idea to Peter Fillingham, who lives in Hastings and is a long-time collaborator and production manager for the artist, it became his job to translate this intricate, digitally repetitive and triumphal work into built space, to work out how to engineer it into being. Not a fan of everything being kept in London, it was Fillingham’s idea to see if he could keep the co-production completely within Hastings, knowing the town had the crafters and construction specialists to turn the sketch into reality…

With the help of Hastings joiner and steel craftsman Phil Holden, the piecing together of the elements of the artwork began, while Peter Boggis and team, Hastings paint and powder finishers, completed the structure with a complicated powder coating to all the interlocking sections.

“A lot of exciting work is happening in buzzing places like Hastings” said Fillingham, a sculptor and artist in his own right who has taught sculpture at Central St Martins and was a former Chair of Fine Arts at Parson’s Paris. He was also the man who created the lettering to Donne’s poem The Sun Rising that sits on the sea-facing elevation of Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage at Dungeness.

Rhapsody in Four Colours in construction. Photo: Mahmood Jamal

Araeen says, “There is an air of optimism in my work”, which anyone who stands before Rhapsody in Four Colours will surely testify. Yet not as a flaky notion, but as a powerful feature of the work. And right now, that optimism, that colour and that spirit of defiance will all resonate the more deeply because of what the world is going through at this time. We may be feeling increasingly insular, separated from the rest of the world, but works like this remind us that art can build bridges between cultural divides, impressing on us the need for redefinition and allowing our fixed ideas about modern art to expand. Not only from London to the orient, but taking in these shores and the makers and creatives from Hastings also worthy of being rhapsodized for their part in it all.

Rhapsody in Four Colours by Rasheed Araeen is now a major permanent installation at the Aga Khan Centre, London, thanks to Hastings.


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Posted 23:24 Thursday, Dec 31, 2020 In: Visual Arts

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