This blog post took more time than I would have expected. Part of my reticence in writing about this particular funventure was that our first attempt at visiting the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto ended with the boy and I involved in a rather serious multiple car accident that shut down the highway and sent people to the hospital. The boy had to undergo quite a few physio sessions in the months that followed, while our vehicle got its own special brand of surgery. It took some time and a bit of a nerve wracking first drive back to Toronto, but I was determined to pay a visit to this hidden cultural gem.
The Aga Khan Museum is situated in a rather unassuming area of Toronto just off the Don Valley Parkway. Sitting in the oozing Toronto traffic allows you to glimpse a modern geometric structure that doesn’t quite fit into the suburban landscape its been placed in. However, this is a perfect introduction to this museum.
It is a place that is meant to shake up your knowledge on a culture and religion that few of us know anything about. Displayed in a beautifully serene setting, belied by the exterior of the building, the permanent collection consists of paintings, objects, and architectural pieces from civilizations of the Muslim world. A particular emphasis is placed on the Arab Near East, Iran, and Hindustan, highlighting the distinctive character of each culture under the Muslim and Islamic umbrellas.
Both the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions are well thought out, highlighting important pieces that impart both knowledge and a cultural awakening. For a few hours, on a quiet Saturday morning, the boy and I were immersed in a beautiful foreign world that left us speechless until the end.
The manuscript painting on the right caught my attention in particular. It’s titled “The Cremation of Talkhand and the Grief of His Mother” and dates to the 17th century. What I found interesting when reading the display sign was that this scene depicts an event that is connected to the creation of the game of chess.
Apparently when the queen found out about the death of her son Talkhand at the hand of his brother, she was so distraught that she set the palace on fire and planned on dying by throwing herself on a pyre. Gav, the murdering brother, tried to stop her. and explain the tragic events of a battle that lead to the death of Talkhand by inventing the game of chess.
The boy and I were invited to take a sneak peak into the private Patron’s Lounge where members can relax and enjoy snacks and beverages while overlooking panoramic views of Toronto. However, you don’t have to be a member to enjoy top quality dining service at the museum.
I speak from experience that the Diwan restaurant, under the direction of one of Toronto’s top chefs, Mark McEwan, is an unforgettable experience both for the food and the atmosphere. The decor, harking to the luxury of private Syrian homes of the early 19th century, sets the scene for an innovative meal inspired by the Middle East, North Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. We spent two hours over various starter plates and glasses of Moroccan tea while in a discussion with a pair of diners at the table next to us. What an experience!
Despite of inauspicious start to our first visit to the Aga Khan Museum, I was delighted that making the effort to explore this relatively new addition to Toronto’s cultural scene was worth it. With the warmest of invitations I encourage you to visit the museum if you have the chance.