Landmark exhibition to explore the fragility of the natural world: Paradise Lost by Jan Hendrix

From 3 October 2020 to 14 March 2021 in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Release date: 14 September 2020

Pavilion sculpture by Jan Hendrix
© Jan Hendrix Mirror Palace Pavilion III, Banksia serrata and Banksia solandri, 2020, photo: E.J. Schempf

Paradise Lost will be the first UK solo exhibition by Dutch-born, Mexico-based visual artist Jan Hendrix. The landmark show at Kew Gardens, featuring new works in a number of mediums, will convey the artist’s response to the transformation of the landscape known as Kamay Botany Bay, in Sydney, Australia.

Kamay Botany Bay was once beautiful and pristine, teeming with endemic flora and fauna. It acquired its English name from the huge number of plants that were recorded and collected there in 1770 by European botanists sailing on the HMS Endeavour voyage to the South Pacific. The botanists, Sir Joseph Banks (Kew Gardens’ first director) and Daniel Solander, collected hundreds of cuttings at the bay and along the Endeavour River in Queensland. Specimens from the voyage were pressed within the loose uncut pages of an early 18th century book called Notes upon the twelve books of Paradise Lost published by Joseph Addison.

This voyage set in motion the British colonisation of the Australian continent, removing indigenous populations from their lands and destroying huge swathes of a fragile ecology that had existed for thousands of years.

Today, almost 250 years later, Kamay Botany Bay is virtually unrecognisable. Now, much of that landscape has been replaced by the suburbs of Sydney, an airport, a container port and an oil depot.

Paradise Lost will explore the beauty, fragility, and destruction of the natural world in the wake of colonial industrialisation, contemporary urbanisation and climate change. Historical material collected at the time is the starting point from which Jan Hendrix has created a collection of beautiful and thought-provoking work.

Many European naturalists believed the plants they saw to be ‘new’ to science and did not acknowledge indigenous people’s existing knowledge of flora and fauna. Scientists have long appropriated indigenous knowledge and downplayed its depth and complexity. The first people in Australia who identified and uncovered uses of endemic plants often remain unnamed and unrecognised. Much of Kew’s work in the 19th century focused on the movement of plants around the British Empire with a legacy of colonialism. Today, Kew is reflecting on its past and revisiting its collections from new perspectives.

New works include a vast monochrome tapestry that will evoke the dynamic texture and beauty of an Australian landscape threatened by wildfire, which ravaged the region in 2019. A huge walk-through mirrored pavilion will form the centrepiece of the show, its intricate metallic detail inspired by two plant species that grow in Kamay Botany Bay, Banksia serrata or Wiriyagan (Cadigal) and Banksia solandri. Both plants belong to a genus that was named after Banks by European taxonomists.

The exhibition will also feature a striking series of silkscreen prints on silver leaf, enamel plates and a moving image work created by filmmaker Michael Leggett, in collaboration with Hendrix.

For those not able to visit the exhibition in person, a virtual tour narrated by the artist will be made available online.

Maria Devaney, Galleries and Exhibitions Leader at RBG Kew says:

“This incredible exhibition by Jan Hendrix will highlight the devastating impact that we have as human beings on the planet, by using the example of Kamay, Botany Bay and how it was irrevocably changed after 1770.

“Through the prism of contemporary art, the exhibition at Kew will draw attention to the unique and beautiful plant life that still exists in this particular landscape in Australia.

“Hendrix’s long-standing interest in plants and the natural world lays the foundation for what promises to be a ground-breaking exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art.”

A book to accompany the exhibition has been published by Kew Publishing, with texts by Dawn Ades, Deborah Ely and Michael Leggett.

Alongside the exhibition (3 October 2020 to 14 March 2021) a display of exquisite paintings from the Shirley Sherwood Collection will be shown in Gallery 6. ‘Flowers: Delight in the Detail’ will showcase the immense technical skill required to accurately depict the flower, with works from several botanical artists painting native plants from the UK, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Poland and the US.

What we are doing to keep visitors safe

Anybody visiting Kew Gardens will be able to enjoy the 320-acre site safely through carefully implemented social distancing measures. Booking advance entry to the Gardens is essential.

We are adhering to government advice on coronavirus to ensure visitors and staff remain safe while enjoying their time at Kew. Ensuring all visitors pre-book timed entry slots to the Gardens is helping us to stagger the entry flow, avoid queues and reduce contact. Toilet facilities undergo stringent cleaning throughout the day, and there are hand washing stations at each gate and key locations. Distance markers remain in place at potential crunch points throughout the Gardens, and we continue to operate cashless systems at our shop and catering pop-ups across the site.

A one-way system will be instigated in the galleries and glasshouses. Exits and entrances to buildings will be staffed to monitor attendance and flow. 

Ends

For images and more information please contact the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Press Office on 020 8332 5607 or email pr@kew.org.

The latest information and full details on safety measures put in place can be found on kew.org.

Please note, visitors, including Members, must pre-book timed entry slots online via the website kew.org. Any changes to this system will be communicated on our website and via our social media channels as well as in direct communications to Members. 

Notes to Editors

About Jan Hendrix

Hendrix was born in the Netherlands in 1949, he has lived in Mexico City since 1978. His works range from artist’s books, print editions, enamel installations, etched glass, and paintings, to large-scale architectural projects. He has held an average of three to four exhibitions a year since 2000 In recent years he has collaborated with numerous architects and is currently working on the façade of the new Mexican Museum in San Francisco. In 2019 his most recent exhibition, Tierra Firme, was presented at MUAC, Mexico City and later in the Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht, Holland.

His work is featured in public and private collections around the world. Collaborations with book authors include Seamus Heaney, Gabriel García Márquez, Paolo Ruffilli, Bert Schierbeek and Homero Aridjis.

In 2012, Jan Hendrix was awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest Mexican award given to foreigners for his work in art and architecture. In 2019 he was made a Knight of the Order of Oranje-Nassau by the Royal House of the Netherlands.

For enquiries relating to Jan Hendrix’s practice please contact:

Vikki Nelson, +44 (0) 7788 284274 / VikkilovettnelsonProjects@gmail.com

About Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world-famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international and a top London visitor attraction. Kew Gardens’ 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Wakehurst, Kew’s Wild Botanic Garden, attract over 2.5 million visits every year. Kew Gardens was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrates its 260th anniversary in 2019. Wakehurst is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. RBG Kew receives approximately one third of its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and research councils. Further funding needed to support RBG Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales.

Decolonising RBG, Kew’s collections

For centuries, rich nations in the north exploited natural resources and human knowledge in the south. Much of RBG Kew’s work in the 19th century focused on the movement of plants around the British Empire, which means it also has a legacy that is deeply rooted in colonialism.

Kew’s Director of Science, Professor Alexandre Antonelli, wrote in The Conversation in June on how RBG Kew is facing up to this past and working to institute changes. This includes:

  • Sharing knowledge accumulated during RBG Kew’s long botanical history with partner organisations in countries around the world to meet the challenges they face. For example, in Ethiopia, RBG Kew is investigating the potential for enset (the “false banana”) to become a major source of nutrition for sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Striving to increase the ethnic representation of RBG Kew’s staff and students.
  • Re-examining our scientific and curatorial practises and expanding RBG Kew’s programme of research into its historic collections to encourage diverse perspectives.
  • Widening access to RBG Kew’s history by digitising the vast collections of specimens, letters, books and artefacts in its collections, and by examining and updating the western-centric labels used to describe these items.

RBG Kew hopes to be able to include this in more detail in its next Science Strategy when it is published in 2021.