Canada has every reason to thank England for the bureaucratic troubles the Aga Khan Museum project ran into there, opening the floodgates for Toronto to acquire this architectural jewel that could have been located anywhere in Europe. Designed by internationally renowned architects and urban planners, the museum takes its inspiration from the Qur’anic theme of light that animates the structures in myriad ways. Across from the museum is the Ismaili Centre, incorporating spaces for social and cultural gatherings, intellectual engagement and spiritual reflection.
According to the Toronto Star, the Aga Khan Museum is the first in the western world dedicated to Islamic arts and objects, with an aim to bridge the differences between the East and the West. The museum’s rich collection boasts many celebrated works of art including manuscripts, paintings, decorated ceramics, metalwork, drawings and so much more. An unparalleled window to the diverse and opulent Islamic culture and artistic traditions, the Aga Khan Museum houses hundreds of rare objects spanning from the 8th to the 20th century showcasing Islam at its best.
The paintings from Iran, Iraq, India, Turkey, Spain, Afghanistan and other middle-eastern countries depict in minute details the life of people in centuries bygone and the rich cultural traditions followed by them. The canvases are live with subjects of war, royalty, trade, even spirituality, as depicted in a painting titled “An Aged Pilgrim” tracing its roots to Agra, India. In it, a pilgrim bent with age but spiritually enlightened, is seen inspiring a beautiful pink blossom that is turning towards him and his inner light. Other creative pieces include intricate marble fountains from Egypt, finely embroidered carpets, robes of kings, weaponry, bowls, arches and samples of various book bindings.
The upstairs gallery includes contemporary visions portrayed through audio-visual and other creative tools. In one brief video, the artist drew a parallel between migration and death, showing how he died when he was uprooted from his home soil, and found himself in an unknown land where he was reborn and had to adapt to survive. Another artist displayed a letter he sent to over a hundred nations requesting a visa to their country. The artwork was a roster of responses, if any, received by the artist. Numerous other thought-provoking exhibits compel patrons to understand the root of the artist’s intentions behind the pieces they produced.
It’s not just the interiors that are magnificent; the park and gardens surrounding the architectural wonders are apt modern representations of gardens from Muslim civilizations. Vladimir Djurovic, Lebanon-based landscape architect, said that he traveled to different parts of the Muslim world before starting the design work on the Aga Khan Park. In his own words, “I felt the intent was to do something for generations; It’s not something for now only — what do we leave behind?”
Families find a visit to Aga Khan Museum not only educational, relaxing, reflective, enriching and fun, it’s also a great place to savour food inspired by the Middle-East, North Africa and India. Patio nights are a great attraction during summer where the hospitable staff offers a delicious summer-themed menu of dishes and beverages. A café is at hand for quick snacks with a dash of Muslim flavour like sandwiches, baklava, date-filled cookies and fresh, hot samosas. This museum is a feast in every sense of the word!
Vinita Kinra is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for India’s largest English daily, The Times of India.