Last updated on February 8, 2021
Dive deeper into the ideas behind our exhibitions, programs, and events.
This space will be a rich trove of videos, Q&As, and interactive experiences featuring the curators and artists responsible for making the Aga Khan Museum a hub for great art, lifelong learning, and vibrant conversation.
In her latest Curator’s Pick for the #MuseumWithoutWalls, Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip unleashes a fantastical beast kept in the Aga Khan Museum’s Collection.
Sphinxes, harpies, and simurghs are familiar sights in the visual art of Islam, appearing on diverse media including paper, textiles, metal, and ceramics. In contrast, the elephant-headed bird depicted on this fritware bowl from 13th-century Iran (accession number AKM 556) is one-of-a-kind. It leads us to speculate about which stories from Muslim societies’ oral traditions might have inspired the artisan. Could One Thousand and One Nights or the stories of Sindbad the Sailor help us uncover the origin of this marvellous creature?
The Wagner Garden Carpet’s historic stay at the Aga Khan Museum has come to an end. As we say goodbye to one of the most celebrated masterpieces of Islamic art, dive into the details and fascinating history of Islamic garden carpets with Prof. Walter Denny's captivating September 2020 talk for the Museum. Watch and be amazed.
Curator Dr. Michael Chagnon unspools tales of adventure from a 16th-century manuscript of Tuhfet ul-Leta'if (Curious and Witty Gifts), one of the rare, gorgeously rendered books featured in the Museum’s Remastered exhibition.
Remastered offers audiences a digitally activated glimpse into the Museum’s collection of Iranian, Ottoman, and Mughal Indian manuscript paintings. Go here to learn more about this fascinating exhibition.
With the winter solstice approaching, Iranians in Western Asia and around the world are preparing to celebrate the festival of Shab e Yalda. To mark the occasion, the Museum's Bita Pourvash has chosen to highlight a poetry-inspired masterwork in our Collection that, like the annual holiday, cherishes the beauty of the dark and with it, the promise of the light.
Two candles, a set of sandal prints, a hanging lamp with Arabic inscription emblazoned on it. These symbols speak to the deeply spiritual meanings embedded into a panel of 18 tiles from 15th-century Syria.
The Museum’s Dr. Marika Sardar delves into the details in her latest Curator’s Pick for the #MuseumWithoutWalls.
A lion, a deer, a hero, a dragon, a phoenix, and a cheeky monkey or two — can you spot these characters in the Museum’s Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip’s latest Curator’s Pick for the #MuseumWithoutWalls? The drawing, depicting a lively scene in a dense, wildlife-filled forest, was created in Iran in the early 15th century. It tells a tale that harkens back to the oral traditions of the Turkic tribes of the Central Asian steppes, which enriched the artistic repertoire of generations of artists.
Like many of the objects in the Museum’s Collection, Dr. Çakır Phillip’s pick is a beautiful testament to rich, centuries-long dialogues between oral and visual traditions, conversations that have produced many of the most cherished artworks, musical compositions, styles of dance, and works of literature ever created.
In this video we present some of the steps that the Curatorial, Exhibitions and Collections teams take in order to make each of the gallery rotations happen. Parts of the Collection Gallery at the Museum are refreshed twice a year with themed installations which allow light-sensitive material to rest. The current rotation, Bloom, is our ninth display in the Museum’s Collection Gallery and explores representations and meanings of flowers and plants in Islamic art, showcasing several paintings and objects throughout the gallery.
Dreaming of spring, the Museum’s Dr. Marika Sardar scoped out flora and fauna in our Collection and made a couple of feathered friends along the way. Watch the video below to learn more about the origins of this painting of two ducks by a pond, a delightful artwork from 17th-century India.
In our latest Curator’s Pick, the Museum’s Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip explores the far-reaching influence of Iranian scholar Ibn Sina, who became known in the West as Avicenna.
Writing in the 11th century, Ibn Sina authored The Canon of Medicine, the most celebrated medical encyclopedia of the Medieval era. The Museum has in its Collection two early volumes of the encyclopedia, which Dr. Çakır Phillip uses to illustrate the impact of Ibn Sina’s writing on Greco-Roman, Chinese, and Muslim civilizations.
As you’ll see, Ibn Sina’s pioneering thought is part of a rich tradition in the Islamic world of scholarship and scientific advancement — a legacy that continues to enrich our lives today
Field Trip Artist Resident Emily Jan’s Museum of Everywhere and Nowhere launches this weekend. Watch her third v-log for our #MuseumWithoutWalls, where she gives a preview of her imaginative online gallery of travel mementos.
One of seven artists participating in the inaugural Field Trip Artist Residency, fibre artist Emily Jan gives us a peek into her work and processes as an artist. This v-log entry, the second of four, shows viewers a preview of her project titled The Museum of Everywhere and Nowhere. Recreating a vast survey of objects “collected” throughout her travels and career, Jan brings viewers along for a deep dive into the magic and wonder girding her imagined museum collection, presented as a digital cabinet of curiosities.
Click the video below to see Emily Jan's first v-log for the #MuseumWithoutWalls.
Curator's Pick: Luminous Simplicity with Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip
At first glance, our Curator’s Pick this week appears to be a simple yet elegant candlestick from 16th-century Turkey. Its brass surfaces may be muted, but as the Museum’s Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip explains, the object beams with cultural and religious significance.
Curator's Pick: A Gratifying Union with Bita Pourvash
Our Curator’s Pick this week is all about unity. While the illustration, painted in 17th-century India, represents an idyllic romantic scene, the work itself is a marriage of diverse cultural influences and ideas of beauty. Explore the connections with this short video presented by Aga Khan Museum Assistant Curator Bita Pourvash.
Completed in 1399 in what is now India, the Gwalior Qur’an has many features that distinguish it from other Qur’ans in the Museum’s Collection. Curator Dr. Marika Sardar delves into the fascinating details in this history-rich short video for the #MuseumWithoutWalls.
Enter a world of beautiful doors and the wonders that lie just behind them. Join Aga Khan Museum Assistant Curator Bita Pourvash on a door-themed tour of objects in our Collection, starting with a marvellously detailed set of engraved wooden double doors from northern Iran.
Setting out to conquer the Persian Empire in 334 BC, Alexander the Great lamented that no poet would narrate his history and adventures. Yet, more than 1,000 years later, Alexander was re-identified as "Iskandar" by Persia's two greatest epic poets: Firdausi and Nizami. Join historian and professor Dr. Michael Barry as he bridges the concepts of art, mysticism, and poetry in this 2016 talk exploring the blending of sober history with heroic tales.
Nourish your mind or feed your body? The Museum's Dr. Marika Sardar serves up examples of 1,100-year-old ceramic dishes from Central Asia that encouraged dinner guests to do both at the same time. Watch the video below to dig into the history of these objects and the words of wisdom they convey.
Click the links to learn more about two of the artifacts featured in the video:
Quench your thirst for elegant design as you learn about one of the most impressive artifacts in the Aga Khan Museum’s Collection: a five-century-old fountain from Egypt. In this short video for the #MuseumWithoutWalls, Curator Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip delves into what the tricoloured, sandstone-inlayed marble masterpiece has to say about domestic life in old Cairo, water as a source of life, and ideas of paradise. Truly a refreshing experience!
What do battling beasts, strange birds, and flame-engulfed treetops have to tell us about how to be a successful leader? Aga Khan Museum Curator Dr. Michael Chagnon investigates in this short video exploration of a 17th-century manuscript of the Anvar-i Suhayli (Manuscript of the Lights of Canopus. Take a closer look at the art here.
Elaborate paintings of groups of people meeting outside belong to storied traditions in Persian and Indian visual cultures. In her latest video for the #MuseumWithoutWalls, Aga Khan Museum Assistant Curator Bita Pourvash shepherds you on a scenic tour of some magnificent examples of the genre — culminating with a cameo appearance from one of the most famous military leaders of history.
Before airplanes and Google Earth, how did we learn about different parts of the globe? With Curator Dr. Marika Sardar as your guide, delve into the contents of a 13th-century Spanish manuscript on geography (AKM513) and read its descriptions of far-off locales and their inhabitants — all places and people the author had never encountered.
Artworks can speak for interwoven connections between cultures. Materials and techniques used by artists offer multi-faceted intercultural stories. In this Curator Conversation featuring the Museum's Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip, you will encounter the fascinating adventure of the exotic pigment cobalt blue, and the meaning of the lotus as it signifies purity and harmony in Buddhist tradition.
How will women reshape gender roles and realities in Canada's Muslim communities? Business leader and author Sheema Khan reflects on her own experiences as a Canadian Muslim and looks to the future in her 2016 talk at the Museum.
The Museum’s Caravans of Gold: Fragments in Time exhibition took visitors back to an era when western African gold and empires connected cultures, arts, and beliefs across continents.
Historian Dr. Augustus Casely-Hayford builds upon ideas presented in the exhibition in his 2019 Museum talk. Click the video below to discover the role art has played in carving out history and empires.
What can museums learn from the current debate, in Canada and elsewhere, over public statues of problematic historical figures? Aga Khan Museum Curator Dr. Marika Sardar inspects the issue through the lens of the Portrait of Henry Fane, a 19th-century painting in our Collection.
Our 2017 exhibition HERE featured bold works by 20 contemporary Canadian artists. With this panel discussion, hosted by curator Swapnaa Tamhane, discover how ideas of Canadian identity are etched into the artists' works and influence how they are understood.
And, in the following lecture, Tamhane delves deeper into the issues, unpacking how complex ideas of Canadian identity informed her curation of this groundbreaking exhibition.
Drawing on two decades of work in Afghanistan expanding education rights, Dr. Lauryn Oates shares a vital message on the importance of empowering women and girls. Click the video below to watch Oates's May 2019 Changemakers lecture at the Museum.
Museum Curator Dr. Marika Sardar takes you out to a poets’ picnic with this short video showcasing our latest Object of the Week — a marvellously colourful folio from a 16th-century manuscript of the Shahnameh, the Persian Book of Kings.
For years, mystery has surrounded the origins of two 17th-century Persian tiles in our Collection. In a new talk hosted by Assistant Curator Bita Pourvash, Royal Ontario Museum researchers Dr. Lisa Golombek and Dr. Robert Mason delve into the story of how they pieced together some of the puzzle.
What happens when museums embrace digital technology and commit themselves to changing outdated perceptions and building bridges between cultures?
In this illuminating 2018 talk at the Aga Khan Museum, Michael Peter Edson, co-founder of the United Nations’ digital UN Live museum, shines a light on how museums can, and should, be a force for pluralism in a rapidly changing world. Click the video below to learn more.
Fire, clay, paint, and a lot of concentration. These were key ingredients in the creation of our Object of the Week — a patterned dish from 10th-century Iran.
In this fascinating short video for the #MuseumWithoutWalls, the Museum’s Bita Pourvash takes us through how this artifact and others like it were made.
How did a magnificent porcelain made in China in the 15th century end up in India two centuries later? In an absorbing new talk for the #MuseumWithoutWalls, Aga Khan Museum Curator Dr. Marika Sardar and Dr. Katherine Anne Paul, the Virginia and William M. Spencer III Curator of Asian Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art, examine the forces that led this and other highly sought-after Chinese artifacts to be acquired by the Mughal court.
Our #MuseumWithoutWalls Object of the Week — a dish from 17th-century Iran — is a beautiful ceramic that would have been displayed on a wall. As the Museum's Bita Pourvash explains, the plate represents an idealized female figure, dressed in the traditional attire of the period. Persian poetry features ideals of beauty that are tied to or inspired by nature. This is reflected in woman represented on the dish, with her eyebrows similar to the crescent moon, eyes likened to almonds, and stature elegant as a cypress tree.
Lecture: The Madman (“Majnun”): Courtly Love in Medieval Islam and Christendom
In this talk, Islamic art scholar Dr. Michael Barry explores the trials of the lovelorn character Majnun the Madman — who is represented in our #MuseumWithoutWalls Object of the Week — and the theme of passionate-love-turned-into-madness in medieval Islamic and Western art.
Our latest Object of the Week has us feeling crazy in love. Tune into Museum Curator Dr. Michael Chagnon's live talk about the Persian tradition's “quintessential love-mad poet” and representations of courtship in Islamic art history.
Visit our Facebook page at 2:30 pm ET on Thursday June 11 or click the video below to participate.
The Museum’s Bita Pourvash dives deeper into our #MuseumWithoutWalls Object of the Week — a gorgeous 16th-century folio from the Divan (Collected Works) of Sultan Ibrahim Mirza — and what it has to say about the many shades of love.
Ghanaian social entrepreneur and activist Deborah Akhenkorah has won praise and awards worldwide for her trailblazing work infusing African stories into children’s literature. The CEO and co-founder of the publishing nonprofit Golden Baobab, she has made it her mission to bolster the representation of African people and experiences in children’s books and to elevate the careers of African authors writing for young audiences
As the Museum’s 2019 Annual Lecturer, Akhenkorah addressed why it’s crucially important that readers — African and non-African alike — see stories from her home continent represented in children’s literature. And through the lens of her work, she extols the power of books to change minds and connect cultures in an era of rapid global change.
Click the video below to watch the Museum's 2019 Annual Lecture, delivered by Global Pluralism Award winner Deborah Akhenkorah.
“Pay attention to life. And when you find that thing to calls to you, that has your heart thump a little bit, step towards it.”
Photographer Rick Allred’s 2019 talk at the Museum with have you dreaming big dreams. Watch the video below to find out about how his passion for folding cranes and promoting peace has taken him around the world.
With Curator Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip as your guide, discover the incredible story behind the making of Pakistani artist Aisha Khalid's giant tapestry Your Way Begins on the Other Side — the Museum’s first-ever contemporary art acquisition. Click the video to learn more about the origins of this awe-inspiring piece.
In a must-see new talk for the #MuseumWithoutWalls, the Museum's Dr. Ulrike Al-Khamis and Prof. Azim Nanji, a former director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, bask in the beauty of a few of the most magnificent pieces in our Collection. As you’ll learn, these works channel a deep spirituality and offer us a breathtaking window on the central principles of the Muslim faith.
How did exchanges between Muslims, Jews, and Christians shape the visual culture of the Medieval Mediterranean? Watch the Museum’s 2019 Artistic Pluralism roundtable — featuring world leaders in the field of Medieval art — to find out how interactions and trade between civilizations led to artistic innovation and new scientific discoveries.
This presentation opens with a stirring musical introduction from the group Lute Legends, feature Lucas Harris on lute, Wen Zhao on pipa, and Demetrios Petsalakis on oud. Enjoy!
For more insight into how cultural cross-pollination shaped Medieval Mediterrean art, watch this video featuring Museum Curator Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip. In the clip, she reveals the surprising origins of her choice for #MuseumWithoutWalls Object of the Week — two blue and white pharmaceutical jars from 15th-century Syria that now reside in the Museum's Collection. Watch the video below to learn more.
In this exclusive #MuseumWithoutWalls talks, curators Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip and Dr. Marika Sardar join forces with Pakistani-Canadian artist Tazeen Qayyum to uncover the secrets and significance of a 17th-century Mughal masterpiece. Each expert offers her own distinct perspective on a royal portrait of the emperor Shah Jahan, allowing you to see the dazzling watercolour in a new light.
In this short video from 2017, world-renowned Pakistani visual artist Aisha Khalid reflects on the inspiration behind — and the process of — creating her six-metre-long, double-sided tapestry Your Way Begins on the Other Side. Inspired by a traditional four-part Persian garden, and named after a poem by Sufi mystic Rumi, the handmade tapestry consists of more than 1 million gold-plated pins. Khalid’s creation was the Museum’s first contemporary art acquisition.
In 2018, artist eL Seed was the featured speaker for the Aga Khan Museum’s fourth-ever Annual Lecture. During his revelatory talk, he testified to art’s power to bring generations and cultures together. Learn about his personal experience creating innovative works of public art around the world, from Paris to New York, Rio De Janeiro to Cape Town.
In a lively talk for the #MuseumWithoutWalls, the Museum’s Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip and Marianne Fenton reveal the fascinating story of the tulip and its symbolic meaning in different countries and cultures. Discover the flower’s influence on artists from East to West, from 13th-century Turkish ceramics-makers to the French impressionist painter Claude Monet.
Our Exhibitions team sourced as many sustainable building materials — including 3,000 second-hand t-shirts — as they could their hands on to create the Sanctuary’s unforgettable gallery design.
Watch the video below, featuring Aga Khan Museum Exhibitions Manager Hayley Andrew, for a behind-the-scenes peek at how and why they did it.
Sanctuary is presented with the support of Partners in Art, Mohammad and Najla Al Zaibak (Bay Tree Foundation), and the Global Patrons of the Aga Khan Museum.
Enter an oasis abundant with wildlife and lush vegetation on a video exploration of the Wagner Garden Carpet. With Museum Curator Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip as your guide, discover how concepts of paradise are woven into every inch of this 17th-century Iranian masterwork.
On loan from the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, Scotland, the Wagner Garden Carpet is currently on display in our first-floor Collections Gallery, where it made its Canadian debut earlier this year. But with the Museum temporarily closed, art lovers have had to wait to gaze upon the four-by-five-meter carpet up close.
That is, until now. Join Dr. Çakır Phillip as she pores over the intricate patterns and potent symbolism of the Wagner Garden Carpet.
To celebrate National Poetry Month, the Museum’s Amirali Alibhai interviewed genre-bending poet and author Tanya Evanson. In their ranging discussion, they delve into two of Evanson’s recent video poems, YAHU and Act of Creation, pieces that have special resonance in these strange times.
Before physical-distancing measures were imposed, Evanson was scheduled to deliver her Bothism — Experimental Sufi performance at the Museum in April. We are pleased to provide her with a digital platform to share her thought-provoking words and ideas!
Painted on a manuscript. Engraved on a candlestick. Emblazoned on a vase.
Verses of poetry appear on art and artifacts throughout the Museum’s Collection — owing to the long tradition in Islamic art of inscribing inspirational quotes on objects from the everyday to the monumental.
To celebrate Poetry Week at our #MuseumWithoutWalls, join Assistant Curator Bita Pourvash on a video tour of the Museum’s first-floor gallery, where she showcases a few poetry-bedecked items in our Collection. Click on the video below to see the written word made material.
Dr. Ulrike Al-Khamis, the Aga Khan Museum’s Director of Curatorial and Public Programs, has prepared a special #CuratorFromHome video for the Easter weekend. Celebrate spring with stories about rabbits and eggs — traditions that have roots both ancient and surprisingly diverse. Hop your cursor (or your scrolling finger) over to the play button to learn more!
The portrait series Chrysalis, by Greek photographer Olga Stefatou, was set to open on March 21. But when the Museum announced its temporary closure back in mid-March, our curators had to think creatively about how celebrate our new exhibitions outside of a traditional gallery space.
Less than a month later, we are pleased to share with you a conversation with Curator Dr. Marika Sardar, where she opens up about what inspired her to want to bring Chrysalis to the Museum. In the video, she explores the concept behind the series — a collection of photographs of 11 refugee women living in Athens — and shares moving testimonials from two of the Stefatou’s participants.
Click the video below to watch Dr. Marika Sardar's Curator Conversation about the Chrysalis exhibition.
Hear ballads of long-ago kings and queens and the weddings songs of everyday people as York University ethnomusicologist and singer Dr. Judith Cohen delves into the music of Moroccan Jews.
Although Morocco has been home to Jewish communities for some 2,000 years, their ranks grew rapidly after March 1492, when the Catholic monarchs of Spain expelled practising Jews from their territories. To this day, the exiled Jews' descendants speak and sing in haketía, or Moroccan Judeo-Spanish. Using colourful images and both recorded and live music, Dr. Cohen explores the communities' musical traditions.
Click the video below to watch Dr. Judith Cohen's February 13, 2020 Lunchtime Talk, titled The Bride under the Lemon Tree.
On Thursday, March 19, 2020, Museum Curator Dr. Michael Chagnon treated #MuseumWithoutWalls visitors to a behind-the-scenes peek at the upcoming exhibition Sanctuary.
For the exhibition, 36 leading contemporary artists, including Mona Hatoum, Brendan Fernandes, and Ai Weiwei, each fashioned a design inspired by the theme of sanctuary. Then, artisans in Lahore, Pakistan, rendered the images into wool rugs using traditional weaving techniques.
During his real-time walk-through on Instagram Live, Chagnon delved into ideas expressed in the artists’ creations and how they relate to the world in which we live.
Click the video below to see a replay of Dr. Michael Chagnon's Instagram Live preview of the Sanctuary exhibition.
The exhibition is supported by Mohammad and Najla Al Zaibak (Bay Tree Foundation), Partners in Art and the Global Patrons of the Aga Khan Museum.
Follow co-curator Marianne Fenton as she shows pieces from the Aga Khan Museum exhibition Don't Ask Me Where I'm From.
In this innovative collaboration between the Aga Khan Museum and the Luciano Benetton Foundation’s Imago Mundi, 15 artists from around the world navigate their blended identities and act as emissaries between the cultures they inhabit. All the artists use their chosen art forms — including painting, textiles, sculpture, conceptual art, multimedia, and calligraffiti — to visualize the complex ways an individual’s ancestral past interacts with the realities of their present and the promise of the future.
The exhibition is supported by Mohammad and Najla Al Zaibak (Bay Tree Foundation) and the Global Patrons of the Aga Khan Museum.