We went recently to fulfil the promise I made around Christmas: to see the "Lost Dhow" exhibit at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.
The dhow in question is a
The whole thing is elegantly and seriously presented in this cooperation between the Aga Khan Museum and the museum in Singapore that has the other 99% of the materials salvaged -- but what they sent us is pretty terrific. Having started my historical career on the Atlantic trade routes of an eighteenth century cod-trading port, I found all this trade history right up my alley. Go see this if you can.
The greater revelation was the rest of the Aga Khan Museum. The subject of the Museum is Muslim- and Muslim-related arts and civilizations. And if the job of a museum is to present with care and passion things and places you don't otherwise know much about, then the Aga Khan is the best museum in Toronto by a country mile right now. I really don't know my Abbasids from my Umayyads, but I now know a hell of a lot more about the astonishing range and richness of Islamic arts and cultures from across a huge sweep of the planet. Eye popping stuff in every case and vitrine.
The dhow is leaving in April, the museum is permanent. Good building too, Fumihiko Maki refers skillfully throughout to Arabic and Islamic architecture, but it is also a good space for, you know, presenting museum exhibits -- things that were not so much a priority in the recent renovations at Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum.
Given how much of our image of Islam is shaped these days by propaganda, the museum is doing good service -- something the donor no doubt had in mind.
Update, March 5: A historian friend who lives outside Canada tells me 1) he has a family connection to the Ismaili Muslim community, of which the Aga Khan is head, 2) that "this museum is a BIG deal in the community," and 3) that he's doing his best to make links to this post go viral in the Ismaili networks. Thanks. If it's working, welcome, new readers!
Update, March 10: Ismailimail gives us some love.