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Statement from the Aga Khan Museum | September 5, 2020

For those who follow us on our social channels, you may have read about a painful experience that happened on Sunday, August 30, when Joel St. John and Elizabeth Ononiwu visited the Aga Khan Park for their engagement photoshoot.


Though other visitors were also taking pictures using photography equipment, Joel’s and Elizabeth’s shoot was unfairly singled out, and they were targeted by one of our contracted security guards. The security guard escalated the situation by calling the police.


What happened on Sunday was unnecessary and unacceptable. We have taken immediate steps to prevent incidents like this one from happening again at the Museum. However, we know more must be done to account for the hurt Joel and Elizabeth have experienced.


On Thursday, September 3, Joel and Elizabeth graciously met with us at the Museum to discuss their experience. In our meeting, they generously explained how the confrontation in the Park has affected them. 


“Joel and I were both so excited to have our traditional Nigerian engagement photoshoot done against the backdrop of the stunning Aga Khan Museum and Park,” Elizabeth said. “Unfortunately, our first experience there was far from stunning. Joel and I ended up leaving the property escorted out by police officers. We were both shocked.”


During the course of our meeting, we listened to Joel and Elizabeth and sincerely apologized for the harm they experienced during their planned engagement photoshoot. We acknowledged that we must do more to fight anti-Black racism.


“We have been pained by what has happened, as it goes against the very reason the Museum exists,” said Dr. Ulrike Al-Khamis, the Museum’s Interim Director and CEO. “We can and we must do better.”


“Our second experience at the Aga Khan Museum was thankfully starkly different to what we had experienced before, and far from what we were expecting,” Elizabeth said of the meeting.


Based on our discussion, the Museum has agreed to do the following to strive for unity:


1. We have agreed to review our third-party security company, as we must ensure that all our contractors and staff members adhere to the Museum’s anti-discrimination policies. We stand firmly against all forms of racism and will determine our course of action when we complete our review.


2. We are working to develop and publish clearer and more easily accessible photography guidelines, to ensure there is no confusion for our visitors, contractors, and staff members.


3. We are pleased to, as a gesture of unity and reconciliation, offer the use of the Museum as the venue for Joel’s and Elizabeth’s traditional Nigerian wedding next spring. We proudly welcome both of their families to celebrate love and culture here.


As an institution dedicated to promoting pluralism and intercultural understanding through the arts, we remain committed to countering racism and to ensuring that everyone, no matter their culture, not only feels welcome here but also loved, celebrated, and respected.


“Joel and I are both looking forward to rebuilding trust with the Museum throughout this process and allowing them to walk out the values and mission they stand by,” Elizabeth said. “We want to thank our community for supporting us during this process, and for raising your voices to the Aga Khan Museum. We are looking forward to seeing them lead in the area of standing against anti-Black racism and fighting for diversity and unity.”


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