The Faaiza Lalji and Ameel Somani Aga Khan Museum Williams College Research Grant

The Faaiza Lalji and Ameel Somani Aga Khan Museum Williams College Research Grant

Date: This program is currently on hold due to travel restrictions due to COVID-19.

Thanks to the generous support of Faaiza Lalji ’08 and Ameel Somani through the Aga Khan Museum Gift Fund, we are pleased to offer research grants for Williams College students wanting to conduct research into different areas of the Museum’s work, collections and programs.


The Faaiza Lalji and Ameel Somani Aga Khan Museum Williams College Research Grant is open to undergraduate and graduate students, particularly to those studying Art History, at Williams College in Massachusetts. One applicant will be selected annually.


This grant allows students to engage in practical, hands-on research on topics in their curriculum related to the Aga Khan Museum’s Collection, exhibitions, performances, and educational programs. Travel and accommodation for the visit will be arranged by the Museum. In addition, a stipend will be provided to assist with miscellaneous expenses.


The grant recipient, in addition to conducting research at the Museum, will have the opportunity to: 

  • Tour the Aga Khan Museum’s exhibitions
  • Meet the Museum’s curators and other staff members as well as local artists of interest
  • Visit other cultural institutions in Toronto and be introduced to individuals and/or artifacts at other institutions that relate to their research interest
  • Learn more about different areas of the Museum’s work
  • Delve into projects that interest them

Here is an at-a-glance look at the experiences of previous grant recipients:


Name: Tayana Fincher

Year: 2017

Museum Exhibitions Visited: Temporary exhibition Syrian Symphony: New Compositions in Sight and Sound, Parviz Tanavoli’s sculpture in the Aga Khan Park, and the Museum’s permanent Collection


Focus of Research: Tayana focused on museology throughout her time at the Aga Khan Museum. She had the opportunity to learn about the various functional areas of the Museum and to  participate in a variety of projects related to the Museum’s work. She spent quite a bit of her time in the area of Education, shadowing tours, brainstorming ideas, and helping to develop materials. Some highlights for her included being able to help with the installation of the temporary exhibition Here: Locating Contemporary Canadian Artists, being with the students in the Education department, and supporting the Performing Arts team with the creation of programming to complement the World of the Fatimids exhibition.  


 “I very much enjoyed the close contact with everyone in the office. I knew a majority of the AKM staff, and felt that they knew me, too. So the family dynamic in the Museum was enlightening to see and be a part of. I [also] LOVED being with the students in the first week with Education, and seeing how the community became involved with the Museum. Maybe it was just me […], but it was lovely to see the AKM actually seeking to work with neighboring curriculums and populations, in addition to being a site for international interest.”

Name: Amina Awadh

Year: 2018

Museum Exhibitions Visited: Temporary exhbitions From Baghdad to Timbuktu: Libraries Rising from the Ashes’, Reflections of Hope: Aida Muluneh in the Aga Khan Park, Suspended Together, Majma-Ul-Bahrain, The Mingling of the (Two) Oceans, and Emperors & Jewels, as well as the Museum’s permanent Collection


Focus of Research: Amina’s research interest was calligraphy and investigating related writing styles. She also had the opportunity to familiarize herself with principles of Islamic art. She learned from objects, staff members, and the literature that was provided to her or that she sought herself. She also had the opportunity to learn from the Head of Performing Arts about the calligraffiti work that Toronto artist Javid Jah was developing for the Museum’s upcoming Nuit Blanche event. As a result, Amina gained valuable insights and realized that she enjoys hands-on, practical activities beyond largely theoretical observation and study.


“My work with the Aga Khan Museum allowed me to further cultivate my personal research around the topic of the evolution of calligraphy from early Islamic periods until today. It has really helped fulfill my long-term goal of researching the preservation of art history from an intersectional lens and cultivating new forms of interpretation based on my plethora of sources and people I had access to during my time at the Museum.”

Name: Niku Darafshi

Year: 2019

Museum Exhibitions Visited: Temporary exhibitions Emperors & Jewels, Transforming Traditions: The Arts of 19th Century Iran and Your Way Begins on the Other Side temporary exhibitions, as well as the Museum’s permanent Collection

Focus of Research: Niku’s focus was the literature and displays of Persian paintings, Qajar art and Qajar photography. She started by focusing her research on royal portraits in Persian art and their evolution through time, specifically in the 19th century. With this topic at the forefront, she examined items in the galleries, received multiple tours from curators around this topic, and gained an understanding of how the Museum’s artifact database works. In later weeks, she narrowed her research further by examining the relationship between portraiture and the method and material of execution (e.g. rock carving, book painting, wall painting, etc.). Her research also included how approaches to, and the purpose of, portraiture in Persian art changed over time. Throughout her time at the Museum, Niku met various staff members from the Curatorial, Exhibitions, and other public-programming teams, who helped her advance her research.


“During my time at the Museum, I learned all about the different departments that help make a museum run and dove deep into a research topic that used pieces the Museum had. It was an incredible learning experience and connected me to an amazing place that I may have never interacted with if this program did not exist. I loved the people I worked with and left the program seeing art and the culture that makes up my identity in new ways.”

Name: Kailyn Gibson

Year: 2019

Museum Exhibitions Visited: Temporary exhibitions Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa, Ekow Nimako’s Building Black: Civilizations, and Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, as well as the Museum’s permanent Collection

Focus of Research: Kailyn focused on larger issues surrounding Islamic art, including identity, visibility, and the power of new inclusive narratives. She was also interested in exploring the African-American voice in exhibitions. With this broad research focus, she familiarized herself with many key aspects of museum work and museology while working on projects in the Curatorial and Marketing departments. These included conducting assigned exhibition evaluations, leading and evaluating two marketing focus groups, and engaging in a project related to the Museum advertising and social media channels. She also conducted a task that involved assessing the museum scene in Toronto and how other institutions compared to the Aga Khan Museum in terms of their mission and mandate. 


“Learning from this talented group of people, who are all aware and committed to the transformative power of art, has been such a privilege and an honor, as I now know that my goals and interests in the art world can be realized, and work surrounding cultural identity and unity is beginning to come to fruition in museum spaces, something that I was not aware of a few years ago.”



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