Monday, 5 May 2014




Hello all!

Hope you had a good break before beginning to work/intern/whatever. The blog is now back and here is the first museum Monday!

I have become increasingly interested in the Aga Khan museum lately and so that is what I'm going to write about!

Aga Khan Museum under construction
Aga Khan museum under construction. Image from The Ismaili

The Aga Kahn museum, according to the website will: "be dedicated to the acquisition, preservation and display of artefacts - from various periods and geographies - relating to the intellectual, cultural, artistic and religious heritage of Islamic communities."

Aga Khan Museum book cover
Book cover of the Safavid period. Image from the Aga Khan website

From what I understand the collection will be a relatively small one. The collection has made its way around a number of institutions worldwide as the museum is being built. The past exhibitions, including catalogues can be viewed here. Oh and there's going to be TEXTILES. So pretty much you can count me in. Also if you take a look at what they have in their online collection the phrase Islamic art covers pretty broad geographical areas and lots of different materials. So there's something for everyone. Textiles for me, paintings and everything else for you.

Aga Khan Museum silk samite robe
Silk samite robe 8-11th c. Image

However the Aga Khan museum won't just be about the objects, it seems to me that they are aiming to create a kind of cultural experience. From the website: "Specific educational programmes on Muslim history, arts and culture will make the Museum a unique space in North America...The building will house a large auditorium with lecture, film and concert programmes, as well as a library offering direct access to specialised documentation and information from virtual sources."

Now I think there are certainly some interesting things to be said about the Aga Khan museum. Like about the architecture, the cost of it, what exactly the Aga Khan Development Network is, and for some, reasons why we don't need it. But to keep this short, and because it's my blog post, let's have some more pictures of objects, which is what I really care about.

Aga Khan Museum gold compendium
Enamelled gold compendium from Qajar period. Image

Aga Khan Museum quilt
Quilt cover from the Ottoman period. Image
Aga Khan Museum Samanid bowl
Bowl from the Samanid period. Image


  1. Welcome back, Musings team & fans! What a great way to start our summer thinking about the new museums to be opening soon, and in Toronto. The developments and beginnings of new museums are as exciting as the life of museums themselves, I believe. It will be great to follow how the Aga Khan museum connects with the other museums in Toronto as I believe there is quite a little overlap with collections at the ROM and even at the AGO.

  2. An interesting aspect of the AKM is how it is part of a larger campus including substantive formal gardens and a cultural centre with its own set of spaces. There is not only an overlap with museums and all types of arts, including performing arts organizations and architecture, but also with education systems / institutions and civil society overall as a bridge and enabler.

    1. Totally! I could not agree more with your thoughts. This makes this institution so rich and complex (and such a great case study for those who research museums and cultural institutions as interdisciplinary and complex spaces of knowledge and display).

  3. To keep your post short and because it is a blog post, you posted pictures from the museum's collection. While I understand you have an interest in textiles, I was wondering why you chose the images that you have posted? Also, why are you interested in this particular museum?

    1. I can't speak for Alexandra, but from my perspective, this is a landmark institution for many reasons. My random list is as follows:
      - this museum seems to be feeding off of the fascinating Quranic ethical starting point of all humankind having been created from one soul, and it uses arts as a bridge between peoples to reinforce this notion. This is powerful, as it is not a linear museum just meant to house a collection, but it has a broader and noteworthy second tier mandate.
      - the museum is part of systems level thinking, bringing together all types of arts, cultures, geographies, in parallel to being an enabler for education, and civil society.
      - the museum and the 'campus' are as a whole meant to impact the broader area, a rejuvenation of an entire region of greater Toronto. Architecture as measured by impact to peoples they serve is a thoughtful measure of project, as opposed to simply what they look like and how tall a building is. This is ingrained in the thinking of the world's largest architectural prize, which happens to be the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
      - while modest in some senses, it will be the largest collection of its kind in north america
      - some of the items in the collection are the absolute best examples of those things anywhere. A particular and powerful example is the oldest entire volume of Ibn Sina's Cannon of Medicine, arguably the most important medical work in history. That oldest manuscript will be in Toronto!
      - this museum is launching itself from a global context, and has relationships all over the world. That means we can look forward not only to its collections, but visiting exhibitions from far and wide, and of things that would not have been considered for Toronto before.

      While not a direct comment on the museum itself, I think it is noteworthy that this museum is not leaning on government, the entire thing having been built privately. What a gift!

    2. Robin, I appreciate your curiosity.

      The pictures I chose were objects that I found interesting when I was browsing through the collection. They were ones that I thought were beautiful but also ones I wanted to know more about. The collection website has good factual information about the objects, but little in the way of use of the object. This was something I wanted to know; for instance, the bowl, was it used on special occasions? The "good china" as it were? Where was the robe worn? By whom? For what? I find myself increasingly interested by these questions, the answers found, perhaps, outside of the object itself.

      As for choosing the Aga Khan, I was curious about it personally and thought I might share the things I came across here. My curiosity was driven by the fact that while I knew it was being built and set to open soon I really did not know much else. For instance, what is the museum offering visitors? I think I was able to partially answer that, for myself if no one else.

  4. The AKDN, of which the AKM is but one part, is vast and far reaching. Within the AKDN also resides the AKMI, the Aga Khan Museum Initiative. I look forward to the beauty of music from the AKMI programs gracing Toronto once the AKM opens. Here is a window: