New Aga Khan Museum enhances Islamic values

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10178078On September 18th 2014, Toronto, Canada’s Aga Khan Museum will open in a 31,500 square-foot space designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki, giving visitors a permanent spot to see one of the top private collections of Islamic art anywhere in the world.

The complex is the work of the Aga Khan Development Network, a group of international development organizations and social enterprises overseen by the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the globe’s 15 million Ismailis and a worldly figure who is a champion of pluralism and a serious patron of architecture.

For Toronto’s Ismailis, the community centre – one of only six of its kind in the world – will be a place for social and cultural events, and for prayer. For other visitors, the museum, its auditorium and the gardens will be a place to learn about the history and contemporary culture of the Islamic world.

The museum has “a very broad ambition in terms of programming and our audience,” says director Henry Kim. It aims to introduce the art, material culture and performing arts of Islamic civilizations – with artifacts largely from the Aga Khan’s family collections, spanning more than 1,000 years of history from Europe to India, and from manuscripts to contemporary dance.

The museum building is designed by Maki, who at 85 is one of the world’s leading architects. He favours a subtle language of lightweight panels and precise grids. The extimageerior of the 113,000-square-foot building is wrapped in white Brazilian granite, polished to a low lustre. When you run your hands across the facade, you find that every angle and cranny is precisely finished.

The Aga Khan Museum, which will reflect the art, culture and performing arts of Islamic civilizations, will house artifacts from the Aga Khan family’s private collections, dating back more than 1,000 years. The museum is aimed at promoting Islamic art through exhibitions, with special emphasis on Shiite Islam, and will provide a forum for exchanges between Islamic and western scholars.

In a speech made at the Musee-Musees Round Table Louvre Museum in October 2007, the Aga Khan explained the reasons for building Aga Khan museums. He said the Muslim world, with its history and culture, is still unknown to the West. Even today, the study of the Muslim world in our high schools and universities is a specialist subject. Very little of the Muslim world features in the study of humanities in the West, where courses are essentially centred around Judeo-Christian civilizations.

“This lack of knowledge is a dramatic rimage2eality which manifests itself in a particularly serious way in western democracies, since public opinion has difficulties judging national and international policy vis-à-vis the Muslim world,” he said.

“The two worlds, Muslim and non-Muslim, eastern and western, must as a matter of urgency make a real effort to get to know one another, for I fear that what we have is not a clash of civilizations, but a clash of ignorance on both sides. Insofar as civilizations manifest and express themselves through their art, museums have an essential role to play in teaching the two worlds to understand, respect and appreciate each other,” he said.

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