Pattern, Light and Shadow

The German Renaissance was a period of significant creative development. Spanning the 15th and 16th centuries, the period gave rise to major developments across visual arts and architecture. Nuremberg-born painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) rose to prominence during this time, namely for his woodblock prints. Yet it was a watercolour painting that left a lasting impression, marking him as one of the first European landscape artists. Titled Great Piece of Turf (1503), it resembles a scientific drawing, depicting a section of dirt sprouting several plant species, including dandelion, daisy, meadow-grass and yarrow. Today, the work is widely considered a masterpiece.

500 years later, Pakistani-American contemporary artist Anila Quayyum Agha (b. 1965) takes this botanical study as the inspiration for Stealing Moments (After Morris and Dürer), I and II (2023). This new work, a wall-mounted construction formed from mirrored stainless steel, receives its UK premiere at London’s Kew Gardens this April. It comprises intricately crafted floral motifs that recall Dürer’s watercolour, reconfiguring the historic painting into three dimensions. Quayyum Agha is recognised for drawing “constant inspiration from the beauty, shapes and structures of our precious natural world” – a quality that makes her work an appropriate fit for Kew’s botanical setting.

The artist is perhaps best known for making large, laser-cut steel cubes that play with pattern and shadow. Examples include All the Flowers are for Me, a suspended installation first displayed at Cincinnati Art Museum in 2017, and now on view at Kew. Light is central to Quayyum Agha’s practice; it is used to project geometric shapes, architectural forms and floral motifs across the gallery space. Complex Islamic designs – found in mosques and historic sites – are carved into cubes and then cast onto the walls, offering an all-encompassing experience in which viewers become part of the art. Here, Quayyum Agha conjures a shared space for artist and audience. In our increasingly detached world, it’s a reminder of our humanity.

Immersive art is enjoying sustained popularity across the world. Recent exhibitions from Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), for example, use mirrors and platforms to simulate the experience of outer space, inviting viewers to become connected with the broader universe. Elsewhere, AI-generated work from Refik Anadol (b. 1985) allows participants to step “inside” the mind of a machine, whilst painters like David Hockney (b. 1937) are transforming their works into room-sized experiences. These interactive works continue to bridge the gap between practitioner and observer and engage the senses in new ways. All the Flowers are for Me and Stealing Moments are part of this moment, finding meaningful connections across the centuries and embracing new possibilities for installation art in the years to come. | 1 April – 17 September

Words: Megan Jones

1. Anila Quayyum Agha, All the Flowers are for Me. Courtesy Columbia Museum. Photo: Drew Baron
2. Anila Quayyum Agha, Stealing Beauty. Courtesy Sundaram Tagore Gallery.