‘Absence of God’, was Raqib Shaw’s first exhibition at White Cube. The exhibition situated across two floors of White Cube Hoxton Square saw installed on the ground floor seven paintings, including his, then, largest to date, measuring over 7m wide. The first-floor gallery was dedicated to Adam, Shaw’s first large-scale sculptural installation.
Set against a backdrop of classical ruins, the paintings in the ‘Absence of God’ series are framed within architectural spaces inspired by the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s depiction of ancient Rome. The densely composed scenes are populated by anthropomorphous creatures, as well as deep blue, Krishna-like figures engaged in fraught, sexual combat. Winged warriors simultaneously perform acts of bondage, flagellation and ritual disembowelment while showers of screaming hominid faces explode mid-air and regal monkeys survey, from under their parasols, a mutant striving to catch flocks of glittering butterflies with its broken net. Hung like an altarpiece, at the far end of the gallery, Absence of God III…And His Tears of Blood Will Drown the Cities of Men comprises two panels that mirror the organ doors Holbein painted in Basel Cathedral. Shaw’s monstrous evocations of Holbein’s Erasmus portraits sit at each side of the entrance, while skeletons jubilantly stage a Dance of Death amidst the flowing hair of the central guardian deity in Absence of God VI, a creature inspired by the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem Kubla Khan: ‘Beware! Beware! His flashing eyes, his floating hair! Weave a circle round him thrice, And close your eyes with holy dread, For he on honey-dew hath fed, And drunk the milk of Paradise.’
The sculpture ‘Adam’ features the artist, himself cast as a human figure with a bird’s head (its beak gaping with a rabid hungry desire), sexually entwined with a large bejewelled lobster. Representing the fall of man, ‘Adam’ is here reflected in a bubbling oil spill, a catalyst of modern-day wealth, vanity and wars.
In August 2009 the exhibition toured to the Karlsplate Project Space, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna.
Installation photographed by Stephen White, courtesy White Cube, London
Artworks photographed by Andy Johnson, Todd-White Art Photography and Stephen White.