Located across from the Ismaili Center in Toronto, the Aga Khan Museum was founded by His Highness the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. The mission of the institution is to educate the public about the artistic and historical roots of the Muslim world. The myriad of textile, sculptural, print, metal, and glass artifacts on display at the museum show the incredible diversity of the religion in an eye-opening way. Through these artistic treasures, visitors can challenge longstanding assumptions about this often misunderstood religion while learning about the diversity of the Islamic world. Beyond the displayed artifacts, visitors can experience live performances, film screenings, and workshops, all of which are designed to supplement the information gleaned from their exhibitions and bring them to life in an engaging way.
Tiles, wood beams, and door panels feature prominently in the architectural fragments that visitors can view at the Aga Khan Museum. While each edifice built across the Islamic world has some degree of religious underpinnings, visitors are invited to compare and contrast the different ways each region interpreted and conveyed their religious belief through their structures.
While Iranian ceramics are particularly well represented at the Aga Khan Museum, visitors can also see many pieces hailing from other areas of the Middle East and China. Visitors can trace the way artistic traditions originating in China influenced the Islamic world as well as the way these traditions were remixed to reflect the unique symbolism of each area. Many of the finest ceramic pieces on display are examples of fritware, which originated in 11th century Iran and was a major development in the production of ceramics in the Islamic world.
Science and Learning
The Islamic world is credited with preserving the science and philosophy of the ancient Greeks at a time when the Western world was in chaos. The pursuit of knowledge has long been considered as one of the pillars of the Islamic faith. The Aga Khan Museum presents artifacts that speak to this tradition and remind visitors about the many medical, scientific, and philosophical discoveries that either originated in the Islamic world or were rediscovered there. Islamic manuscripts venerating great thinkers such as Pythagoras were in many ways ahead of their time in the 13th and 14th centuries. Islamic physicians were able to collect works by Greco-Roman doctors and build on their knowledge, leaving behind detailed anatomical drawings that can be viewed at the Aga Khan Museum. Just as they advanced medical knowledge, Muslim rulers did the same with astronomy. The manuscripts and drawings of various constellations shown at the museum are a culmination of studies that incorporated translated works by Ptolemy as well as indigenous Arab and Indian knowledge bases.
The objects owned by the elite of each society are often indicative of the highest level of artistic expression of that time period. In exploring luxury objects of the Islamic world, visitors will no doubt develop an appreciation of the intricacy, beauty, and painstaking effort that characterize this artistic tradition. The types of objects that were fashionable to own are also indicative of the values of each time period represented. A compendium was to the Qajar court of the 18th and 19th centuries as the latest Apple gadget is to Westerners in the present day. This delicate object would have conferred a great deal of status onto its owner as it would have signaled that they not only had a great deal of wealth but also that they channeled that wealth into acquiring more scientific knowledge.
Live Arts and Film
Bridging the gap between the past and the present in a tangible way is one of the main goals of the Aga Khan Museum. To this end, visitors are able to experience live world music performances, film, panel discussions, live jam sessions, lectures, and workshops. The museum’s showcase performances include local as well as international artists performing song, dance, theatre, and spoken word pieces. By inviting guest artists to create, teach, and learn at the Aga Khan, the museum creates opportunities for local artists to collaborate with world-renowned artists in performances that are showcased during their Hive Jam Sessions. These artists in residence also create showcase performances, which are always well attended. The museum’s 350-seat, state of the art auditorium provides the perfect viewing area for visitors wishing to see a selection of films and new media.
77 Wynford Drive, Toronto, Ontario M3C 1K1, Phone: 416-646-4677