More than 200 items from the Aga Khan’s collection of Islamic treasures — eventually destined for Toronto — are going on show in Berlin in an exhibition spanning a millennium and covering half the globe.
A chestnut leaf delicately inscribed with golden calligraphy greets visitors at the start of the show of works collected by the billionaire philanthropist and illustrating the breadth of Islamic culture.
Dating back to the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, it is one of the newest pieces presented at the exhibition. Exhibits date back as far as a green-glazed pilgrim’s flask from the 7th or 8th century.
The Aga Khan is spiritual leader of 20 million Shia Ismaili Muslims. The exhibition includes 215 items out of a collection totalling roughly 1,000 pieces, whose permanent home in Toronto should be ready in mid-2013.
Organizers hope “to present to our western public the pluralism of the Islamic cultures,” Luis Monreal, the managing director of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, told reporters.
“We in general view Islam as a single cultural identity and this is simply a wrong perception, because Islam over 13 centuries has been a religion practised by a great diversity of people,” he said.
At the western end of the Islamic world, the exhibition showcases artifacts such as an inlaid scribe’s cabinet and an astrolabe from “al-Andalus,” the area of Spain ruled by the Moors until 1492. It also includes pages from the “blue Qur’an,” inscribed in gold on blue-dyed parchment, from North Africa.
At the other end, an 18th-century Qur’an inscribed in tiny lettering on green cloth from India occupies part of a wall, contrasting with a geometrically styled edition of the Qur’an from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
The exhibition also includes 19thcentury Chinese pilgrim Ma Fuchu’s illustrated report on his pilgrimage to Mecca; a well-preserved Mongol robe from the 13th or 14th century; and illustrations of the epic Persian poem “Shahnama” or “Book of Kings.”
Organizers sought to highlight the importance of the written word and the Qur’an, while also following the routes of travellers, both those making the hajj — the pilgrimage to Mecca — and adventurers and explorers, curator Benoit Junod said.
The show, titled “Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum — Arts of the Islamic World,” runs through June 6.
“We’re trying to perhaps make people discover things, and with discovery comes understanding,” Junod said. “And understanding is something which is much needed nowadays.”
The Aga Khan Museum, due to open in 2013 in Toronto, will be dedicated to the acquisition, preservation and display of artifacts — from various periods and geographies — relating to the intellectual, cultural, artistic and religious heritage of Islamic communities.
Planned as a venue for large international exhibitions, the 10,000 square meter building will house its permanent collection as well as major temporary exhibitions.
Surrounded by a large landscaped park, the museum will provide a forum for permanent exchanges between the Islamic and Western worlds.
It will also be a major centre for education and research and for the discovery of the musical heritage of the Islamic world.
The museum’s collection contains some of the world’s most important masterpieces of Islamic art, including the famous collection of miniatures and manuscripts created by the late Prince Sadruddin and his wife Princess Catherine, and objects in stone, wood, ivory and glass, metalwork, ceramics, rare works on paper and parchment.
Covering over one thousand years of history, they create an overview of the artistic accomplishments of Muslim civilisations.
It will be an institution dedicated to disseminating knowledge of Islamic civilisations through outreach to the widest public — school children, students, adults and families, as well as researchers, including educational resources via the web. The building will house a large auditorium with lecture, film and concert programs, as well as a library offering direct access to specialised documentation and information from virtual sources.
The museum’s temporary exhibitions, which will be developed in partnership with key international partners, will spotlight the diversity of Islamic arts and cultures. . Beyond the traditional presentation of major periods of Muslim history, original approaches will include, for example, the relationships between Islam and other cultures and the evolution of arts, sciences, religion, literature, or music in a Muslim context.
Source: Sault Star