Light & Shadow, Light from Shadow

20 March 2016 – I am again at the Aga Khan Museum, drawn by Visual Stories of a Toronto Community — the one-day exhibit of images created by teenagers after a photography workshop that provided them with skills, encouragement and (I think) cameras as well. I also want to revisit the stunning Abbas Kiarostami installation Doors Without Keys before it closes on March 28.

But really, this is a centre I think I’d gratefully visit for its architecture & serenity alone. The play of light is an important component in that total effect.

entrance, Aga Khan Museum

Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki gave the museum strong, simple lines — proof that strength need not be aggressive, it can be very calm indeed. Even on grey days, the building radiates. Even more so today, in the morning sun.

As always, I am fascinated by the play of light & shadow in the inner courtyard, the result of mashrabiya patterns etched into its glass walls.

view of innter courtyard, up to open sky

Each glass courtyard wall, transparent yet delicately veiled …

detail, courtyard wall

throwing its ever-changing pattern upon adjacent Museum walls.

Here, next to the coat-check stand …

pattern thrown onto adjacent wall

here, playing against the entrance to the Bellerive Room, with its own patterns in gleaming wood …

next to Bellerive Room entrance

and here, on up to the ceiling, pattern on pattern, texture on texture, shadows working with the light to create luminous beauty.

courtyard walls

Later, I cross the formal Islamic Garden, by Lebanese landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic.

It is a sensory experience even now, when the reflecting pools are empty and tree branches bare. I feel gravel beneath my feet & hear its crunch; I admire the sculpture of bare branches against the sky; I slightly narrow my eyes against the glint of sun on the facets of the prayer hall in the adjoining Ismaili Centre.

view across the Islamic Garden to the Ismaili Centre

I have already taken one of the public tours offered of this beautiful building, the work of Indian architect Charles Correa — and recommend the experience — but I am here again today for a more focused purpose. The Exhibition Hall currently features a display entitled Tolerance, Understanding, Coexistence: Oman’s Message of Islam.

Messages of hate reverberate so much more easily than messages of peace and good will, do they not? All the more reason to pay attention when light emerges from all that shadow.

Photography is not permitted in the exhibit, but you can visit the Omani website and see for yourself why I bring it to your attention. Here is an opening quote, it gives the flavour:

We have three population groups on earth: the first, consisting of Christians, Jews and Muslims, who believe in one God and a holy book; the second, atheists, who have lost all confidence in religion; and the third group, representing a variety of religious and spiritual ideas. We endeavor to maintain a constructive and genuine dialogue with scholars and representatives of all these groups.

The aim of exchange is to reflect on the foundations of our thinking, a common morality and a common sense of justice. For only when we are aware of these similarities and they form a basis for our actions, while accepting cultural differences, will we and our children enjoy a peaceful future.

— Sheikh Abdullah al-Salimi, Minister of Endowments and Religious Affairs

(One further comment about Islam in Oman: the education of girls is not only permitted, it is compulsory.)

Speaking of websites, the Ismaili Centre’s own WordPress site has captured all my previous posts about this complex of buildings. Visit me — and much more — here.

Leave a comment


  1. Hi Penny

    I didn’t know about this amazing building, and the philosophy as well, of exchange and tolerance. Lovely!


  2. I didn’t know there were public tours. Wonderful post.


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

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