Aga Khan Museum: An interfaith crucible of art and architecture
Late last year, a diverse group of interfaith leaders visited the Aga Khan Museum to explore its exhibitions, architecture, and facilities. As the United Nations has decreed the first week of February World Interfaith Harmony Week, The.Ismaili is pleased to share the experiences of these visitors in an article written by Ruth Broyde Sharone, first published on 15 November 2018 by The Interfaith Observer.
Some 7,500 people representing more than 200 religions gathered from around the globe were boisterously engaged at the Toronto Convention Centre in a week-long repast [last November]. The feast included interfaith plenaries, seminars, workshops, panel discussions, worship, meditation, artistic performances, a film series, and much more. All the while a different kind of interfaith activity — subtle and low-key — was going on a few miles away, at the Aga Khan Museum.
The stunning museum, designed by Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, is a landmark structure, revealing in exquisite detail the rich artistic culture of Islam and the diversity of Islamic civilization. As their brochure describes, it is dedicated to connecting cultures through the arts by serving as a centre for innovation and creativity, with an expressed goal “to expand people’s understanding of the contributions of Islamic civilization to global cultural heritage.”
It was created by His Highness the Aga Khan, the current spiritual leader of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim community, often referred to as a modern-day “Medici.” He is the community’s 49th hereditary Imam and a direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad. He is both a patron of the arts and a creative force, having spearheaded the construction of some of the most noteworthy architectural sites in the world, including hospitals, universities, museums, and gardens.
The Aga Khan has also initiated one of the most prestigious architectural prizes in the world, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, and his architectural and cultural footprint is especially noteworthy in Canada. Landmark sites include the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre in Toronto, the recently inaugurated Aga Khan Gardens in Edmonton, and the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat building in Ottawa. Also in Ottawa is the Global Centre for Pluralism, funded by the Aga Khan and the Government of Canada, a tribute to the model pluralism that characterizes a country which has a history of liberal immigration and recently became a welcoming home to thousands of Syrian refugees.
'Enchanting orb' as part of new exhibit on moon draws visitors to Toronto museum
Aga Khan Museum's The Moon: A Voyage Through Time looks at role of moon in Islamic world
A giant sculpture of the "enchanting orb" known as the moon is drawing visitors to the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.
The sculpture, made of nylon, weighing 80 kilograms and covered with printed imagery of the lunar surface, is the centrepiece of The Moon: A Voyage Through Time, a new exhibition that explores the role of the moon throughout history, in faith, science and the arts, particularly in the Muslim world.
Knitting Pilgrim project appearing at Aga Khan explores religious commonalities
The project, called the Knitting Pilgrim, saw Dunn knit three, intricate tapestries measuring five feet by eight feet in a style nicknamed “stitched glass” because it closely resembles the look, brightness and ornate nature of stained glass windows.
The pieces are composed of about 100 pounds of knitting and $10,000 of yarn. They are meant to explore “the commonalities and conflicts” of the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and are sprinkled with religious symbols including the Star of David, the Kaaba, the burning bush, a dove and a menorah.
The pieces were Inspired by Dunn’s longtime connection to religion, fostered by his father, a Presbyterian minister.
Date: Saturday, July 20 (12-10pm) & Sunday, July 21 (12-6pm)
RAIN OR SHINE
Getting Here: Free shuttle bus from downtown with 5 convenient stops
At 10:56 pm on July 20, 1969, humans first set foot on the moon, expanding the limits of humanity. Now to celebrate 50 years since that milestone, we’re hosting a two-day festival, featuring live music, a food fair, artisan market, and family-friendly activities. Join us for a weekend full of lunar-inspired fun at the Museum, in the Aga Khan Park, and at The Ismaili Centre, Toronto.
Since 2016, the Aga Khan Museum has been proud to partner with Frederic Roberts Photography Workshops to showcase the incredible talent of local students. In just two and a half days, high schoolers learn computer and camera skills that will last a lifetime. But it is about more than building knowledge. “Photography is a tool for self-expression, and the stories are very powerful.” says Roberts.
It is this focus on storytelling that makes the workshop so unique. Students come from different backgrounds and communities to share images that catch their eye. Then, because Roberts runs these workshops all around the world, they can connect with other young photographers in a private Facebook group. “Instead of teaching and disappearing, there is a continued education element to the workshops,” Roberts explains. “We leave behind equipment for the students to keep using, and our faculty stays engaged with the images posted on the Facebook group.”
Each time the workshop returns to the Aga Khan Museum, former students share their expertise with the newcomers to the group. This invaluable teaching experience helps to build responsibility, patience and compassion. “It is amazing to see someone with no experience in photography become a teaching assistant in such a short time,” says Roberts. The future leaders in our community start with the simple click of a camera.
To find out more about the programme’s impact, we spoke to four student photographers from the most recent workshop.
SECTION OF A CEREMONIAL COVERING (KISWA) FOR THE KA’BA BUILDING AT THE HEART OF THE MASJID AL-HARAM MOSQUE IN MECCA
Accession Number:AKM823Place:CairoDimensions:850 x 91 cmDate:late 19th – early 20th centuryMaterials and Technique:Black silk with red silk appliqué, embroidered in silver and silver gilt wire over cotton and silk thread padding
The Sufi Dimension in the Auditorium of Aga Khan Museum
The Sufi Dimension with Saad & Ankita! Celebrate mysticism in the Auditorium of Aga Khan Museum Presented by Kiaram Entertainment Inc.
About this Event
The Sufi Dimension Event will be focused on an informative, as well as musical journey of Sufism from the time of its known beginning.
The event will be programmed to give the audience an insight into the idea of Sufism, by creatively entailing the stories, to magnifying poets, to bringing Sufi musicians into the limelight, to its existence in various parts of the world.
Date: Saturday, August 31 (12–10 pm) & Sunday, September 1 (12–6 pm)
You’re invited to our fifth birthday bash! We’re throwing a party to commemorate five years since we opened our doors and began our quest to connect cultures. In the spirit of that mission, we proudly bring you an exciting range of cross-cultural music and activities, including Persian jazz, Filipino hip-hop, and even Bhangra dance classes! Other festival highlights include a food fair, family art activities, live music, dance classes, an artisan market, and free admission to our Museum Collection. On Saturday the galleries are open from 10 am to 8 pm, and on Sunday they're open 10 am to 6 pm.
Saturday, August 31 | 12–10 pm
Dang Show - 8:45 pm
Moskitto Bar - 6:30 pm
Amely Zhou - 12, 1, & 3 pm
Kathak Dance with Bageshree Vaze - 2 pm
Fethi Nadjem Ensemble - 2:45 pm
Han Han - 4 pm
TEKE::TEKE - 5:15 pm
Sanskriti Arts: Bhangra - 7:30 pm
Sunday, September 1, 12–6 pm
Kamancello & Gros Morne House Band - 4 pm
Amely Zhou - 12, 1, & 3 pm
Labyrinth Ontario Showcase - 2 pm
Sina Bathaie Ensemble - 5:15 pm
Ensemble Topaz - 3 pm
Aga Khan Museum
The Aga Khan Museum is celebrating five years since its opening. The Museum has dedicated these past five years to a vision of Changing Perceptions. This is a bold vision for any institution, but for one of just five years to have demonstrated the impact the Museum has had on individuals and communities around the world is truly remarkable. The transformation of the Museum into a Thought Leader, a Museum Without Walls, and a Centre for Innovation and Creativity has been uniquely impactful and inspiring, but also not achievable without the incredible generosity of our Museum supporters.
We would like to thank our community of supporters for their passion and friendship over the past five years. As we look to the future, we are excited for all that we will achieve together in changing perceptions and connecting cultures through the arts.
FIFTH ANNIVERSARY CHALLENGE CAMPAIGN — DOUBLE YOUR IMPACT!
In honour of our Fifth Anniversary, every dollar you donate between today and November 1 will be doubled, up to $25,000, thanks to an incredibly generous gift from Alnoor Gulamani & Family.
By giving today, you will help the Museum continue to transform mindsets through extraordinary exhibitions, performing arts and educational programming. Please donate today to make your Fifth Anniversary gift to the Aga Khan Museum and help us realize the full potential of this extraordinary challenge!
Choose to make a one-time gift, or make an even bigger impact by pledging to donate monthly.
Your gift of $20 or more will receive a charitable tax receipt for the pre-matched dollar amount donated. Please note that donations to the Fifth Anniversary Challenge Campaign do not include any benefits, including Friend/Patron benefits. Friend/Patron sign-ups and renewals, in-kind donations, and pledges are not eligible to be matched.
Dr. Lauryn Oates opens our 2019 Talk Series, Changemakers, drawing on two decades of working in Afghanistan to expand education rights for women and girls in conflict zones. Dr. Oates shares new insights, discussing the exceptional outcomes of empowering girls and women, and reflects on the role of art, literature, and music in giving girls and women a voice in the world.
The Moon and Humanity with Dr. Jamil A. Shariff
Astronomer and public speaker Dr. Jamil A. Shariff discusses how the moon has benefitted the development and continued existence of life on planet Earth. This talk, by an astronomer working on cutting-edge space technology, covers how the cycles of the moon have played a central role in the faith of Islam since its inception, and how both lunar and solar cycles have remained important in our daily life from that era through to the present day.
The Aga Khan Museum (AKM) is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year and, within such a short period, it has become a global hub for education, cultural connections, creativity and innovation. Located in the heart of Toronto (Canada), AKM offers each of its visitors the opportunity to enter and gain new insights into the rich world of the arts and culture of Islamic civilizations. With the mission of connecting cultures and building bridges, the Museum aims at changing minds and perceptions by positioning itself as a thought leader and an educator without walls.
Over the past five years, and even earlier as far back as 2010 during the planning stage of the Museum, TKN volunteers have been an invaluable resource and have played a critical role in helping shape the Museum to what it is today. From contributing to the planning of its construction to implementing new software and systems, the Museum would not be able to live up to its promise of being “A Museum Like No Other” without the dedication, passion and support of its more than 300 volunteers. Building a Museum from the ground up is no small feat! In 5 short years, AKM has managed to set itself apart as one of the global thought leaders in its area of expertise. Welcoming close to 150,000 visitors annually, this majestic building is surrounded by the tranquil gardens of the Aga Khan Park and shares the site with the Ismaili Centre Toronto. The site, as a whole, offers both the multifaceted dimensions of a modern world and also the peace and serenity that so many yearn for.
As one enters the AKM space, every corner and each experience is enhanced through the help of its cherished volunteers. Since the Museum’s inception, TKN volunteers have contributed their invaluable skills, knowledge and support across virtually every department. Today, these volunteers support the Museum floor as well as behind the scenes. They assist the Museum’s operations by offering rich and insightful tours of the exhibits and the architecture, greeting and welcoming visitors and assisting them in the Gift Shop, and supporting educational programs and family activities. Behind the scenes, they offer their time and expertise in areas such as Fundraising, Finance, Marketing & Communications, Facilities, and IT. The volunteers are also quick to make themselves available for any project that may require additional help.
Over the past five years, more than 50,000 volunteer hours have been dedicated to the Museum! As the Museum continues to grow and explores new ways of evolving, the need for such exemplary service is more important than ever. With the help of its volunteers, the Museum is able to provide an exceptional experience to visitors, and it also gains new insights and perspectives into what the Museum is doing and what it may be needing next. As the Museum is still in its infancy, the possibilities are endless both from, and for, the volunteers. The sense of meaning and fulfillment that this experience provides to each volunteer is felt from the inside out, extending far beyond the Museum’s walls. Thanks to this, the Museum has been able to reach beyond its goals and develop strong relationships with visitors from across the world – visitors who rave about the Museum and the warm welcome they receive, which makes them want to come back repeatedly.
Museum stakeholders from outside the Ismaili community are amazed by the volunteers and see them as a truly unique gift for the development and betterment of the Aga Khan Museum. Not only is it remarkable to see such a dedicated group of individuals give so much of their time and knowledge to the institution, but the level of humble service, passion and commitment is truly exceptional. The Museum looks forward to nurturing this wonderful partnership of hope and growth between the Museum, its volunteers and its visitors for many more years to come.
Artists: Shereen Ladha, Rahim Bhimani, Anil Mohabir ( From Toronto)
Project Type: Independent Projects
Neighbourhood: Don Mills
This installation combines built environment, light and movement to reconcile practicing spirituality in the Western world and defining a modern Canadian Islamic identity.
Aga Khan Museum
Address: 77 Wynford Dr.
Public Washrooms: Yes
Physical Access: Wheelchair accessible
“Tawazun | Balance” is motivated by the artists’ experiences of being born in Canada and identifying as members of the Islamic (Ismaili) faith. There is a sense of duality when living in the fluid, ever-changing, fast-paced Western world while practicing a religion that is largely bound by structure. “Tawazun | Balance” will reflect on the reconciliation of two seemingly opposing narratives—a reconciliation only possible, in this case, through art. The piece will be interactive and ever-changing, playing on shapes that are created through geometric structures inherent in Islamic design and architecture. Its forms will also be influenced by classical dance, which showcases the fluidity that can exist within a rigid structure.
MG VASSANJI BOOK LAUNCH: A DELHI OBSESSION
Date: Wed, Oct 23, 2019 07:00PM
Price: $10, $9 Friends
Enjoy a conversation with two-time Giller Prize-winning author M.G. Vassanji, in celebration of A Delhi Obsession, his powerful new novel about grief and second chances, tradition and rebellion. Vassanji’s storytelling has already been praised by Quill and Quire for how he “expertly intertwines episodes from Delhi’s history and the personal histories of his protagonists.”
This on-stage conversation between Vassanji and literary consultant Meenakshi Alimchandani will explore the author’s career and delve into his new novel, which follows Munir Khan, a recent widower from Toronto. Born in Kenya, Munir has lost all family connections, and has never visited India before. On a whim, he decides to visit Delhi, the city of his forbears. What he finds there is a love that is passionate, yet, because of India’s rising nationalism, also impossible.
M.G. Vassanji won the Giller Prize for The Book of Secrets and The In-Between World of Vikram Lall, along with the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction for A Place Within: Rediscovering India. He is a member of the Order of Canada and the recipient of the Canada Council Molson Prize for the Arts. He was born in Nairobi and raised in Tanzania before moving to Canada, and now lives in Toronto.
Meenakshi Alimchandani is a Toronto-based literary consultant who specializes in South Asian literature and authors. She curates the South Asian segment of the Toronto International Festival of Authors and consults for Canadian publishers, promoting such well-known authors as Amitav Ghosh and Ruby Lal.
On September 27, 2019, we were joined by 350 enthusiastic supporters and sponsors from around the world for the Aga Khan Museum’s third annual Lapis Ball gala, in celebration of the Museum’s fifth anniversary. Guests shared a remarkable evening of art, architecture, and music that demonstrated just how powerful the Museum’s mission to connect cultures through the arts can be.
Through the generous support of our guests, the Lapis Ball raised an incredible $675,000. This will allow the Museum to continue to create innovative programmatic offerings that educate, inspire, and promote understanding through the arts.
On September 28–29, 2019, Patrons' Circle supporters of the Aga Khan Museum came from around the world to attend our third annual Patrons' Appreciation Days. During these two days, Patrons participated in a number of exclusive activities and events, including a keynote panel with special guests facilitated by our Director and CEO, Henry Kim (Five Years of Impact), an excursion to the inaugural Toronto Biennial, and special tours of our newest exhibition, Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa.
The Patrons’ Circle supporters of the Aga Khan Museum are a highly engaged group whose invaluable generosity profoundly impacts the Museum’s mission to connect cultures through the arts through our exhibitions, performing arts series, and education programs.
Look and listen as ethnomusicologists Dr. Annette Sanger and Dr. James Kippen introduce the percussion orchestras known as “gamelan,” which accompany Indonesia’s famed shadow puppet plays, and perform some well-known pieces.
THE POWER OF LITERATURE TO CHANGE MINDS
Join us this Sunday!
Hear from a fierce visionary who is changing the world’s literary landscape in this year’s Aga Khan Museum Annual Lecture. Growing up in Ghana, Deborah Ahenkorah dreamed of snowy American lands and not African ones — simply because she couldn’t find children’s books from Africa. Now she’s won the 2019 Global Pluralism Award for her groundbreaking work to celebrate African writers and connect children with literature that reflects their diverse stories. Don’t miss her inspiring talk!
Join us from the Aga Khan Museum on Sunday 24 November for an inspiring session, as Deborah Ahenkorah — one of the winners of the 2019 Global Pluralism Award — shares insights from her experience supporting African writers and illustrators and publishing children’s books from across the African continent. Ms Ahenkorah is co-founder and CEO of Golden Baobab, a social enterprise that aims to promote African literature for children. The event will begin at 2 PM EST and will be webcast here.
Luciano Benetton, Founder Imago Mundi and Prince Amyn Aga Khan, Chair of the Aga Khan Musem
What does it mean when you are asked: "Where are you from?" This often innocuous question provides information to identify the historical background of a person but, more often than not, also pigeon-holes migrants based on biases and stereotypes. The project, Fondazione Imago Mundi, a project founded by Italian billionaire Luciano Benetton, has partnered with the Aga Khan Museum to launch a new project changing the narrative of identity for migrants. The partnership has kicked off with an exhibition in Italy called "Don't Ask Me Where I'm From."
The project channels the experiences of artists who are first, second, and third-generation immigrants–a growing body of people raised in a culture other than their parents–in a series of several works exploring cross-cultural artistic realities. Don't Ask Me Where I'm From features new works by 15 artists, representing 25 different countries. From Italy, the exhibition will travel to the Aga Khan Museum in March 2020 and then to venues across Canada, the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.
Luciano Benetton, Founder Imago Mundi and Prince Amyn Aga Khan, Chair of the Aga Khan Musem
In response to one of today's most pressing global issues, this project focuses on the impact of migration on artistic identity and expression. The artists included in the project address the challenges they face as people who live between cultures and celebrate the abundance of cultural experience they can channel in their art. Aligned in their belief in art as a source of knowledge and a key to interpreting the world, the Aga Khan Museum and the Fondazione Imago Mundi have come together for this project with a shared goal of furthering understanding, respect, and tolerance among the world's cultures. Henry Kim, the Aga Khan Museum's Director, and CEO described the project: "this exhibition reinforces our belief that culture is fluid and that it is possible to live free from nationalism–a perspective on the world that comes at a critical time."
It is not surprising to see this partnership between the Aga Khan Foundation and Fondazione Imago Mundi. Chairman Benetton, is also the cofounder of the namesake clothing retailer Benetton, a company that shifted the paradigm of advertising by challenging social norms using provocative and often uncomfortable images.
From its inception in 1965 to the mid-1990s, Benetton took the approach of shock advertising to bring social awareness to retail and a significant thrust of the campaigning centered around identity and challenging stereotypes towards difference. Although the company has taken a different approach to retail adverts over the last thirty years, the spirit of curating art to explore cultural identities continues with Fondazione Imago Mundi.
Benetton shared his perspective on the partnership: "Imago Mundi is a cultural, democratic, and global project that looks to the new frontiers of art in the name of coexistence of expressive diversity. This collaboration is a new step to enlarge our artistic community. We see it as a further opportunity to foster the promotion, research, and knowledge of artistic realities from all over the world and, above all, dialogue between different cultures."
Today, almost every organization is shaped by individuals who are migrants, or have come from migrant families. The layering of different cultures, experiences, and values will create new identities. For most of us, the default question around identity remains at the superficial level about the origins of where an individual comes from, in reality, today, a person's geographical background doesn't adequately explain their identity or drivers around their behavior. Art is one of the most emotionally potent forms of sharing stories and telling stories in a way that is impactful and relatable. This project creates a springboard to open up discussions around how we understand and respond to individuals from diverse backgrounds, how we empathize with these experiences, and, more importantly, how we pivot to find connections with people who are very different. The most potent element of the project is the scale and breadth of diversity of migration.
The fifteen artists present a broad-spectrum of histories, traditions, and experiences covering stories from at least twenty-three different cultures and countless more influences along the way. All of the artists featured in this project have been internaionally recognised for their work by different organizations. The range of backgrounds is immense; some of the artists are first-generation migrants and others second or third generation migrants addressing issues of identity in transition. Every piece of work presents a different lens on migration, from fear and loss and feelings of being displaced to experiences of tolerance and hope.
For example, eLSeed is a street artist who has coined the term "calligraffiti" to describe his murals that incorporate both Arabic calligraphy and graffiti aesthetics. In an approach similar to U.K. artist, Banksy, eLSeed is uses public spaces to create accessibility to his messages of peace, unity, and tolerance grounded in a desire to unify communities and redress stereotypes.
Liberty Battson is a conceptual artist born and raised in Benoni, South Africa, to Zimbabwean parents, she describes how her identity was shaped: “Not feeling particularly connected to what it has historically meant to be a white South African, I quickly adopted a broader global identity and honed my art practice in that way. When you are a post-migrant, you are a bridge, a hybrid, capable of being true to yourself and true to your birthplace. I perceive myself as a non-patriotic patriot, a fine link between Zimbabwe and South Africa, whilst simultaneously open enough to be influenced by the rest of the world.”
Jeanno Gaussi is a mixed media artist who deals with cultural identity, place, and memory. Her work stems from her own multinational, diasporic upbringing, and from stories of others, including a young girl forced to hide her gender to leave Afghanistan. Gaussi shares her experiences of identity; “I am fine with the question [‘Where are you from?’] because I do not struggle anymore with the fact that I do not have a specific home country. At some point, I realized what a unique influence I had when growing up. It became a source of strength, and stopped being a burden."
Prince Amyn Aga Khan, chairman of the Aga Khan Museum, explains the importance of capturing the stories of migrants: "Humanity has always traveled, for many reasons, essential or simply by choice, and societies have always migrated, bearing with them their "home" cultures. They have thus always found themselves confronted, thereby with a culture or cultures hitherto unfamiliar to them and have been thrust into what could be called an "intercultural dialogue." He goes on to explain the power of art as a lever for conversations and greater understanding; "What strikes me is the remarkable creativity that seems to be engendered by the experience of finding oneself involved in a dialogue of cultures."
Art and creativity provide a natural opportunity to explore curiosity around identity and diversity. The exhibition offers the opportunity to delve deeper beyond the question: "Where are you from?"
By using art and story-telling, individuals are invited to be more curious to find out more about what migration means not just for the families who move but also wider society shifting to accommodate new influences and open more opportunities for necessary conversations.
Renowned Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum and winner of the Jameel Prize 5 and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, discusses how climate, land, culture, and community engagement have inspired the evolution of her designs.
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