October Issue 2014
“If I were looking for a single word to sum up my intention and hope for the Aga Khan Museum, it would be the word ‘enlightenment,’” said Prince Amyn Aga Khan, vice chairman of the board of directors of the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, in his welcome address at its opening ceremony.
The Aga Khan Museum, which holds over a 1000 cultural artifacts, recently opened its doors in Toronto, in conjunction with the Ismaili Centre. It is currently the only museum in the western world dedicated solely to the display and preservation of art from the Muslim world. Inaugurated on September 12, 2014, in the presence of the Aga Khan and his family, as well as the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, and assorted members of Parliament, the museum is part of The Aga Khan Development Network, founded and chaired by the Aga Khan, that works to improve the living conditions of those in the developing world.
Patricia Bentley, an education manager at the museum, described its “mission” to “build bridges” between different communities.” Prince Amyn Aga Khan also mentioned that the museum aims to foster dialogue between people belonging to various ethnic and religious backgrounds, saying that the museum’s location in the western hemisphere would contribute towards healing the divides between Muslims and other communities, as well as providing knowledge about Muslim heritage to a larger group of people.
The objects preserved in the museum are collected from all over the world, including Iran, Afghanistan, India, China and Turkey. In addition to that, the three leading architects that took charge of the project were of Lebanese, Japanese and Indian heritage. This, Prince Amyn Aga Khan, explains was a symbol of diversity and “international partnership.” “In order to stimulate dialogue between different cultures, the Aga Khan Museum will continue a long history of cultural sharing between Islam and the West,” he stated, adding that Toronto (with an extremely diverse population, including a large Muslim one) was an ideal location to showcase the history of Muslim civilisations for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The vice chairman of the museum stresses that the museum will promote all kinds of art, including music and literature. It will also host events such as debates and lectures on architecture, science and philosophy and include performances by renowned artists to provide an opportunity for people to engage in intellectual discussions about Muslim traditions. Also, various cuisines from different cultures (including Turkey, Iran, North Africa, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent), will be available for visitors to taste, thereby showing that this space is looking to appeal to all human senses and the “interplay” between them, as was mentioned at the opening ceremony.
The architects working on this project, led by award-winning Fumihiko Maki (From Maki and Associates), used ‘light’ as his design inspiration. Light will be ever present in the building and will highlight its beautiful structure, for example, by illuminating the courtyard and throwing different patterns of light on the walls in this two-floor building. The museum contains two exhibition galleries, areas for art conservation and storage, a 350-seat theatre and two classrooms. The Ismaili Centre Toronto was inaugurated on the same day as the museum, which is a space for spiritual reflection for the Ismaili community as well as for social events, which will be open to everyone. The two buildings, facing one other, are connected by a park which will provide “a remarkable environment for relaxation and contemplation for people of all ages and backgrounds,” stated the Aga Khan. He was personally involved with the building and design as well as the collection of objects for the museum, and took Prime Minister Harper on a personal tour of the institution after the opening ceremony.
The museum’s collection includes architectural decoration, metal work, luxury objects and ceramics collected from all over the world, and is currently hosting an exhibition of contemporary art from Pakistan titled The Garden of Ideas. In addition to that, Pakistani qawwals, Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad performed at the museum in the last week of September. In October, renowned Pakistani dancer, Tahreema Mitha, will be there to screen her autobiographical film The Vigil, followed by a panel discussion. She will also lead a session about kathak, bharatanatyam and modern dance, in one of the many events hosted by the museum.
Furthermore, the museum’s publishing programme printed a number of books to enhance the experience of the visitors who seek to learn more about the arts. The books include the Aga Khan Museum’s Guide and Pattern and Light: Aga Khan Museum, focusing on the architectural design of the museum. These publications are fitting for visitors to the beautiful sanctum that is the museum. As Henry Kim, the museum’s director said, “The idea of an oasis — the sense that, once you enter it, you’re in a different place — is very much a part of the overall desire.”
This article was originally published in Newsline’s October 2014 issue.