The Economist | Aga Khan Museum: The Riches of the Islamic World

The fourth Aga Khan, now 77, was a young prince when he entered Harvard University. “It was extraordinary,” he recalls. “That whole year in Humanities I, the Islamic world was totally absent, zero.” This is the first museum created by the global development network he later formed, and it sets out to illustrate the richness and diversity of Islamic cultures.

Park facing exterior of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. The museum opened in September 2014 and is the first in North America dedicated to showcasing Muslim art and culture. (Photo: Janet Kimber/Aga Khan Museum)
Park facing exterior of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. The museum opened in September 2014 and is the first in North America dedicated to showcasing Muslim art and culture. (Photo: Janet Kimber/Aga Khan Museum)

THE low-slung, white-granite Aga Khan Museum in north-east Toronto shimmers through the autumn leaves. On first view the newly opened 17-acre site seems like an image out of a desert dream. It has a garden with five reflecting pools, as well as a dramatic, glass-domed prayer hall and a community centre for local Shia Ismaili Muslims. (The Aga Khan is spiritual leader and adviser to the world’s 20m Ismailis.) This 21st-century evocation of the Muslim East—an unexpected sight in a city that gets covered in snow for months each year—makes a fantastical introduction to a museum of Islamic arts.

The museum’s central courtyard, which is open to the sky, has glass walls 13 metres (42.7 feet) high, etched with lattice patterns. When sunshine strikes the walls, the play of shadows is mesmerising.

SAM_0584-MOTIONA decade ago, the Aga Khan twice tried to buy a London site for his museum, a place that would be devoted not only to a celebration of the aesthetic achievements of Islam, but also to the very different cultures that produced them. The lack of support from government and arts institutions in Britain is all the more distressing in retrospect given that an appreciation of the richness and variety of Islamic cultures and the arts they produced seems more important with every news report from the war-torn Middle East. Visitors to Toronto are strongly advised to spend some time in a museum whose bold setting is inseparable from its contents. And while there they should make a point of seeing the prayer hall at the Ismaili Centre (booking required)—here, at least, the world feels serene and harmonious.

Some 300 objects and art works are displayed inside, including superb examples of metalwork and ceramics, textiles and calligraphy, painting and sculpture. But one of the first things the visitor sees is a useful wall-sized map that charts the progress of Islam across the world. In a single century following the death of Muhammad in 632 it spread from the Arabian Peninsula across North Africa to Spain, and then later in the other direction, across to Iran, Central Asia, India and Indonesia.

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Earlier and Related – Aga Khan Museum Inauguration – Selected Media & Press Coverage

The Prime Minister’s Office | 24 SEVEN Exclusive: PM marks opening of Ismaili Centre, Aga Khan Museum and Park

The Wall Street Journal | The Aga Khan’s New Islamic Treasure Trove

Forbes | A Museum Gifted By Aga Khan

The Washington Post | Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic writes about Aga Khan Museum & Ismaili Centre in Toronto

The Globe & Mail | Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum, opening this week, is a world-class showcase for Islamic art

Newsweek | Aga Khan Museum: Enlightened Islam Fights Back Against Jihadist Brutality

Al Jazeera | Aga Khan Museum: Inside N America’s first Islamic art museum

Al Arabiya – العربية | Video: Aga Khan: Canada’s first Islamic Art Museum

Fast Company | Ainsley O’Connell: A Look Inside Fumihiko Maki’s Gorgeous New Museum For Islamic Art

The Guardian | Aga Khan Museum: North America finally gets a home for Islamic art

Earlier and Related: All Media & Press Coverage on Aga Khan Museum

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