The Aga Khan Museum, opened September 2014 in Toronto, Canada, is the first museum in North America dedicated to the arts and the cultures of the world of Islam. Founded by His Highness the Aga Khan, the Museum is dedicated to the acquisition, preservation and display of artifacts – from various periods and geographies – relating to the intellectual, cultural, artistic and religious heritage of communities in the world of Islam. Through art, performances, exhibitions,
research, education and collaboration with other leading international
institutions, the Aga Khan Museum promotes knowledge of the contributions of
Islamic civilizations to world heritage.
The Museum collection contains over one thousand artefacts and artworks and spans over one thousand years of history. The objects – in ceramic, metalwork, ivory, stone and wood, textile and carpet, glass and rock crystal objects, parchment and illustrated paintings on paper – present an overview of the artistic accomplishments of civilizations of Islam from the Iberian Peninsula to China.
Housed in a innovative new building, the Museum allows the public to experience the living traditions of these societies as well as their artistic and cultural practices. The Museum was designed by the renowned Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki. The abstract notion of light and the light of human creativity and openness were sources of inspiration for the design of the Aga Khan Museum. Maki’s design is contained in a 10,000m² building within a simple rectilinear footprint 81 metres long by 54 metres wide. The four primary functions (exhibition spaces, an auditorium, classrooms and workshops, and library and media-centre) revolve around a central courtyard, which acts as the heart of the building and integrates the different functions into a cohesive whole while allowing each space to maintain its independence, privacy, and character.
The Museum shares the site with the Ismaili Centre, designed by Charles Correa, and is surrounded by a ten-hectare landscaped park, designed by Vladimir Djurovic. Together, they constitute important landmarks and green space for the city of Toronto.
Humans have always had a complicated relationship to their natural environment, especially to the beasts that populate the land and compete for its bounties. Striking a balance between nature and culture that would advance civilization has been a paramount sociopolitical endeavour in history. Syria, as a settled country since ancient times, eminently participated in this process, and its art reflected the different facets of that relationship: from fear, to struggle and subduing, to anthropomorphic appropriation, and finally respect and coexistence. All these modes of interaction are represented in the arts throughout the country’s history, though a clearer separation between the world of humans and that of beasts emerged with the spread of monotheism and the rise of the concept of idolatry.