The Aga Khan Museum, the first museum devoted to Islamic arts and culture in North America  will open on the  the 18th of September.  The museum was eight years in the making. Initially intended to be located in  central London on the Thames, the museum was eventually built in  the “unlikely” location of the Don Mills suburb of Toronto.

The museum is part of a larger cultural complex including the Ismaili Centre, a place for reflection, spirituality and engagement. Here is an “inside look” at the museum.

This “new hub of Muslim culture” as it is described in this article, “seeks to increase knowledge and understanding of Muslim civilisations through the arts of the Islamic world.”

The more than 1,000-strong collection, which includes illuminated manuscripts, ceramics, textiles, paintings, scientific texts and musical instruments, spans 11 centuries and is drawn from the personal holdings of the Aga Khan and his family.

However is focused particularly on cultural exchange between the so-called “Muslim world” and the rest of the world.

“We want to be able to highlight the fact that even in early times, there were constant trade relations between the Muslim world and the outside world,” says Henry Kim, the museum’s director.
The museum’s architecture refers to this cross-cultural influence. The Aga Khan asked the Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki to base his design on the concept of light, a central premise of Islamic architecture. The result is a luminous white limestone building that blends Japanese and Islamic traditions. Intricate window designs refer to mashrabiya (Islamic latticework) and Japanese bronze lanterns.

In another article, the museum’s director Henry Kim is quoted making the point that the museum is intended to introduce a western audience to a region of the world many know little about, highlighting Islamic art  as “an important chapter in the history of human civilization“: “The object of the collection is to highlight objects drawn from every era and every region of the Muslim world,” he said. “People need to understand that something lies between East and West, and this is the Muslim world.”

The opening of the museum will kick off with a two-day music festival featuring Routes of Andalusia: David Buchbinder and Ensemble, and Qalandar: Mugham, Dastgah, and Maqam and two exhibitions: The Garden of Ideas, a show of contemporary artists from Pakistan, and In Search of the Artist, a showcase of the its permanent collection of 1,000-plus pieces spanning 1,400 years of Muslim culture stretching from Spain to Indonesia.

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