Engage with the Ideas


Engage with the Ideas

Date: Last updated on September 14, 2020

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.


Curator Conversation: A Most Unusual Qur'an with Dr. Marika Sardar


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.


Curator's Pick: Doors to Admire with Bita Pourvash


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.


Lecture: The Persian Romance of Alexander the Great with Prof. Michael Barry


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.


Curator from Home: Dinner with a Side of Wisdom with Dr. Marika Sardar


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:

  • Multicoloured Bowl with Large Calligraphic Band (AKM541): https://agakhanmuseum.org/collection/artifact/dish-AKM541
  • Bowl from Nishipur, Iran (AKM546): https://www.agakhanmuseum.org/collection/artifact/dish-akm546

Curator from Home: Source of Life with Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip


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!


Curator from Home: Kernels of Wisdom from the Past with Dr. Michael Chagnon


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


Curator from Home: Meeting in a Tree Pavilion with Bita Pourvash


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.


Curator from Home: Exploring the World (From Home) with Dr. Marika Sardar


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.


Curator from Home: Harmony in Blue with Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip


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.


Lecture: New Reflections on Being Female Canadian and Muslim with Sheema Khan


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.


Lecture: Trade Networks and Empires: African Art's Many Golden Ages with Dr. Augustus Casely-Hayford


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.


Rhythms of Canada: When Paintings Become Political


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.

Rhythms of Canada: Canadian Artists Being HERE


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.


Lecture: Igniting Agency with Dr. Lauryn Oates


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. 


Curator Conversation: Cooking Up Fun with Dr. Marika Sardar


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.


Curator Conversation: Solving a Persian Puzzle


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.


Lecture: Changing Perceptions: The Evolving Role of Museums with Michael Peter Edson


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.



Curator Conversation: Created with Fire with Bita Pourvash


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.



Curator Conversation: Collecting Beauty: Travels of a Chinese Porcelain to India and Beyond


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.



Curator Conversation: Beauty for Display with Bita Pourvash


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.



Facebook Live Curator Conversation: Crazy in Love with Dr. Michael Chagnon


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.   



Curator Conversation: The Many Shades of Love with Bita Pourvash


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.



2019 Annual Lecture: The Power of Literature to Change Minds with Deborah Akhenkorah


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.


Lecture: In the Folds of Peace with Rick Allred


“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.


Curator Conversation: Divine Love with Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip


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.


Curator Talk: Contemplating Islamic Art, Faith, and Spirituality


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.



Roundtable talk: Artistic Pluralism in the Medieval Mediterranean


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. 


Curator Conversation: One Painting, Three Points of View


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.


Artist Conversation: Aisha Khalid’s on the Making of Your Way Begins on the Other Side


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.


2018 Annual Lecture: "How Can Art Bring People Together?" with eL Seed


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.


Curator Conversation: Our Fascination with Tulips


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.


Collections Conversation: Bringing Sanctuary's Sustainability-Focused Gallery Design to Life


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.


Curator Conversation: The Wagner Garden Carpet with Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip


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.


Creator Conversation: #MuseumWithoutWalls interview with poet Tanya Evanson


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!


Curator Conversation: Poetry Tour with Assistant Curator Bita Pourvash


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. 


Online Talk: Bunnies and Eggs with Dr. Ulrike Al-Khamis


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!


Curator Conversation: Chrysalis with the Museum's Dr. Sardar


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.  


Lunchtime Talk: The Bride under the Lemon Tree with Dr. Judith Cohen


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.

Sanctuary Tour with Museum Curator Dr. Michael Chagnon


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.


Don't Ask Me Where I'm From Exhibition Tour with Co-Curator Marianne Fenton 


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.


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