Photos: In and around the Aga Khan Museum, as it reopens after more than a 100 days
Museum hours: Monday: Closed (except long weekends), Tuesday thru Sunday: 10 A.M. – 6 P.M. Extended opening Wednesday to 8 P.M.
Reopening Admission: No set charges during 1st month of reopening (what you can pay admission from June 27 – July 26, 2020). Parking: $10.00 ($5.00 for members). Please reserve your timed museum entry HERE.
Location: 77 Wynford Drive, Toronto. Adjoining are the Aga Khan Park and the Ismaili Centre Toronto.
I wondered what the experience of attending the Aga Khan Museum, a vision of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, would be in the midst of the coronavirus. I had pre-booked myself to be at the museum for 10 AM on Friday June 26th. But the publication of a new photo post, Countdown to the opening of the museum, had delayed me by almost an hour. I even skipped my breakfast to get the work done, because when it comes to things that matter, food becomes secondary to me.
As I arrived at the main entrance of the museum, with a camera over my shoulder, I simply uttered “Open Sesame” as in “Ali Baba and the forty thieves,” and the doors opened. How can that be? Yes, you guessed it! Technology brings with it magical wonders. A touchless entry, as my hand was swiped across the scanner, and the heavy doors gave way. That “Open Sesame” made me feel good, about technology.
Now, I must say that like Aladin who entered a cave, there is plenty of treasure behind the doors of the Aga Khan Museum. You emerge rich and inspired by what you have seen, and educated by what you have read.
But to do all that safely during times of the Coronavirus pandemic, means that you must keep 2 metres apart – and there are signs on the floors and in exhibit rooms to remind you of that. My electronic ticket in my email is quickly scanned. I am instructed to adhere to some safety guidelines. I note that all the museum staff and visitors are wearing face masks, making you more prone to missing close friends, who pass you by. Snobbish guy, they must be thinking to themselves, especially if the other person recognizes you!
But I easily recognize one of the most supportive persons at the museum, with respect to my website initiatives, and she introduces me to her two colleagues. I am told that from the time the museum closed on March 13, a group was established to start planning for the museum’s reopening, whenever that would happen, a week or several weeks from the closure date. I get to learn that the Aga Khan Museum is the first museum in Toronto to open on a daily basis. Everything is in place with regard to government guidelines. I was told that exhibitions that have had to be held back, will take place in the coming several months. As I walk past the wall of donors, I read the plaque that recognizes the Ismaili Imam’s vision that led to the founding of the museum. It reads: “The Aga Khan Museum was founded through the vision and generosity of His Highness the Aga Khan, Shah Karim Al-Husseini 49th Imam of Shia Ismaili Muslim.
I then arrive at the beautiful Bellerive Room dedicated to the collection of splendid works from Prince Sadruddin and Princess Sadruddin over several decades. I note the room looks different and is more spacious than what it was before. The central sitting area, where people would sit and listen to the museum guides explaining the collection has been removed. Why? Due to the coronavirus, soft material sitting areas have been replaced with small wooden stools. Without the large round sitting area, the room feels much much larger and spacious.
BELLERIVE ROOM – BEFORE AND AFTER COVID-19
From the Bellerive I head to the cafe for my complimentary coffee and baklawa, and note that tables and chairs alongside the cafe area have been removed. Instead, patrons have to take their beverages and food to the beautiful courtyard that is laid out with small round tables. A canopy over the tables protects you from the harsh sun. But, what about the performances that used to take place in the courtyard and along the museum’s foyer space? They are on, but no singing! Performers can only use their instruments.
When I bring my breakfast to one of the courtyard tables, I lower my face mask and the same friends who had walked past me and were hard to recognize come alive, shouting greetings across tables. Being from Ottawa, we share the sad news of the passing of the President of the Ottawa Aga Khan Council, Karim Gwaduri.
All food sold in the cafe is pre-packed. After a quick breakfast, I set out to take photos on the same floor, and I click everywhere without realizing, until the 8th photo, that my Olympus doesn’t have a memory card. I tell my daughter, Nurin, 440 kms away in Ottawa about my silliness. LOL! She askes me to rush home and grab it. As my two hours will be up soon, because I arrived at the museum late, I decide to come back again on Sunday for the photos.
I am thirsty. As I start walking to the exit, I want to have a drink of water, but I realize that the water fountains are closed. I do not want to go back to the cafe for bottled water, as there is a line-up. I see hand sanitizing stations everywhere. I clean my hands, and as I walk to the same door from which I earlier entered the museum, I am excited to be that Aladin once again, but someone has done the honours in front of me, and the doors are ajar. I want to take that last photograph but immediately realize that the camera will click without capturing the moment. I arrive back home, and first do the honours of loading the Olympus with the memory card. The battery is still fully charged.
Two days later, on Sunday June 28, I am back at the museum just for the photos after making an online booking for a specified time. If you come by car, buy your parking ticket on-line also. I take plenty of photos inside the museum, and then on my way out I stop at the shop to look at some beautiful Aga Khan museum ties that are on sale at half price. I purchase a couple a few days later — as Father’s Day gifts from my daughter.
One of the events team member is there on duty and she tells me that at 5 PM, there is a small outdoor wedding, the first wedding for 2020. It’s still early. I go for lunch, and return some time later to capture wedding moments. I meet the bride holding a bouquet of flowers, with which she will walk to the wedding stage some 100 metres away, in front of the Jamatkhana dome. I ask her if I can take some photos from a distance, and she obliges. I use my Zoom to take the photos from the other end of the central pond.
Behind me, and in front of the museum, I see a daring person performing somersaults. He is being photographed by a friend, and invites me to join in the picture taking. My camera captures the right moment. He asks me if I wish to see him do a reverse somersault, and I say that I have already captured him beautifully.
I am delighted to bring you all sorts of photos to show you how the vision of Mawlana Hazar Imam has transformed a large block of Wynford Drive to an amazing space consisting of the beautiful Aga Khan Park, flanked by two beautiful and majestic buildings, the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre with its unique Jamatkhana dome.
It is now around 7 PM, and I watch a Muslim come on his bike, remove his prayer mat and carefully lay it on the ground, just a few metres from the walls of the Ismaili centre. The Jamatkhana has a niche facing the east towards Mecca. He faces the east too, and prays for about 10 minutes and rides away. I sit on a bench by tree 49, and pray away. It has been a satisfying day. What a wonderful experience, all for the vision of my beloved Imam, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.
Date posted: July 4, 2020.
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