The best samosas in Toronto are at the Aga Khan Museum, and I enjoyed them even more with Tottenham’s victory over Manchester City

Beef samosas from the Aga Khan’s Museum’s cafetaria. Note the image is of samosas that I froze after bringing the cooked version home. I simply microwave them for 30 seconds and then place them in a toaster oven (toast mode) for 3 – 4 minutes. They turn out to be as delicious as freshly fried ones. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

Do not fail to take a few dozen samosas home with you when you visit the Aga Khan Museum

By ABDULMALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos)

Yesterday (April 17), the samosas at the Aga Khan Museum tasted better than ever. Let me tell you why. I have been a Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) football fan since the age of 8, thanks to my late dad, Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018). We were in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), Mozambique, in 1961, when Spurs won the double. Every Tuesday, my dad would acquire a South African English newspaper to see the results of the weekend’s British football games. He would also use the results to predict matches that would end up as draws the following week, and enter his choices in one of the cheaper football pool such as Zetters. Like everyone else who played the pools, his hope was that from his selections of drawn games, 7 or 8 would be correct. It would make him rich overnight, provided of course there weren’t too many draws on the day. If I recall correctly, he spent a good 2-3 hours analyzing the most recent results to make his predictions. I simply wanted him to win so that he would be able to buy me a good box of coloured pencils for 12-15 escudos — times were tough! I asked him one day what team he supported the most, and his reply was “Spurs”; “and second best papa?” And he replied, “Everton.”

Spurs has been in my heart ever since. They haven’t won the English Premiere now for 59 years, and they are not going to win it this year either. Yesterday, though, they broke the hearts of Manchester City players, their highly respected manager and million of fans when in the 3rd minutes of injury time, the goal scored by City’s striker Rahim Sterling was disallowed by VAR (Video Assistance Referee) due to an off-side infringement. Moments earlier, before the VAR review, my heart had sunk to its lowest depth. Now, following VAR review, the referee’s arm went up indicating off-side and the Jumbotron flashed NO GOAL VAR OFFSIDE (watch game highlights, below). I was as excited as every Spurs fan on the face of this earth. On aggregate, the scoreline after the VAR review stood at 4-4 and Spurs eliminated City due to the away goal rule.  Spurs will play their semi-finals against Ajax — the club that was made famous by Dutch master Johan Cruyff, who is regarded as one of the greatest players in football history.

I was ecstatic with the Spurs victory. I thought of my dad; a day earlier I had even told my mum about the game and she also remembered that Tottenham “was papa’s favourite team.” DAZN has the rights to show the UEFA games in Canada through an on-line subscription, and it was not televised, so my mum could not watch it.

Click to watch highlights of incredible UEFA Champions quarter final 2nd leg between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur

After that incredible and tense victory, I needed time to recover from a roller-coaster game that saw 5 goals scored inside the first 21 minutes. My point of relaxation, I decided, would be the Aga Khan Museum, which is open until 8 PM every Wednesday. As I set forth from home, I knew what would give me the greatest pleasure — not the fantastic Moon exhibition, but the delicious samosas that are prepared for the Museum’s courtyard cafe by the highly acclaimed on-site Diwan restaurant.

As I reached the cafe counter, I raised myself to discover that the oven trays where the samosas are kept to maintain crispiness were empty. I was disappointed and told the cheerful attendant they should be turning out more of the samosas, at least on Wednesday evenings. I was relieved when he told me he had placed an order for 10 more and they would be ready in 7-10 minutes. “Do you want all 10?” I replied, “Yes, 2 to eat here and the remainder for home.”

Story continues after quote…..

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 MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM ON HIS FONDNESS FOR SAMOSAS

His Highness the Aga Khan. Photo: John Macdonald, Ottawa.

….Earlier this evening I was struck by how quickly we are all affected by the culture we live in although it’s not our own. Bahadur Hirji, you all know, was taking pictures and he kept on saying to my wife and me “cheese” – in the end I said to him, at least if you had said “samosas” or “biriani”, I would have recognised that he was conveying a message to me — His Highness the Aga Khan, Los Angeles, November 3, 1986

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…….continued

The wait was worth every minute. I found a comfortable chair alongside the museum’s atrium. I did not turn on my Iphone. I had come to relax and did not want any intrusions. It was time to savour the Spurs victory with the best samosas in Toronto.

Samosas come in numerous varieties — ground beef and chicken as well as vegetarian. The Aga Khan Museum makes the beef and vegetarian kinds which are spiced splendidly. The version it prepares is with a thin pastry covering, not the thick and much heavier pastry that is served in the majority of Indian restaurants and supermarkets around the country. The thin pastry has always been my preferred choice. I often refer to such samosas  as Ismaili samosas, like the lentil based Ismaili bhajias, and fried muhogo (cassava), because the East African Ismaili community created its own versions of appetizers and curries (such as kuku paka, the equivalent of a Thai green/yellow/red chicken curry), pilaus and bhirianis which can be found in many restaurants across Canada run by East African Ismailis. In Vancouver, for example, restaurants such as Safari, Kilimanjaro, Simba Grill, James Cafe, Agra (across from James) come to my mind immediately. In Ottawa a trio of Ismaili sibblings, with the support of their parents, have established a magnificent catering unit under the name All Seasons Indian Catering on 2285 St. Laurent Blvd, with an East African emphasis. Of course, in addition to restaurants, many Ismaili ladies make outstanding samosas and some even cater for private parties.

As much as I have loved the fusion food at all these East African Ismaili outlets, the samosas at the Aga Khan Museum are among the finest in taste and quality. The crispiness of the samosa with its thin outer pastry, the spice level of the beef and the fact that the exterior pastry doesn’t have an oily feel to it have made me their fan. Moreover, there has never never a hint that the oil that the samosas are cooked in has been used over and over again. The samosa is slightly smaller in size than what you get in restaurants and the Museum sells them at a $1.00 each, with a 10% discount if you are a member of the museum .

Samosas are generally served with a slice of lemon that you squeeze over onto the meat after taking the initial bite. Many restaurants provide different types of chutneys such as amli (tamarind) chutney, a spicy chutney made from green chilies and coriander or even a white coconut chutney. But I am not a believer in these extra chutneys when a food item tastes delicious on its own. Two drinks that I enjoy the most with samosas are a cup of hot chai or a a can of coke. The chai sold at the Museum is a tea bagged version, which is never as satisfying as a chai that is prepared with tea leaves or tea bags combined with cinnamon sticks, elchi (cardamom pods), cloves as well as other spices, that are all boiled for a few minutes in water and milk. I make it a point to occasionally take a dozen samosas from the Museum for my afternoon tea. I freeze them, and whenever I am in the mood for samosas, I warm a couple in the microwave for 20 seconds before placing them in a toaster oven for about 3-4 minutes (in toaster setting — just as you would toast bread). Really, the result is outstanding and the previously frozen samosas come out as crispy and tasty as the freshly cooked ones.

I am generally a fast paced eater but yesterday I spent over an hour finishing two samosas and a cup of chai latte. That’s how relaxed I felt at the museum’s magnificent confines. It has a peaceful atmosphere, a fact that was noted by two new visitors to the museum as they walked by me. My mum who admonishes me for eating rapidly would have been pleased. I felt relaxed. I was savouring the samosas and I considered the time spent at the Museum as one of the finer moments in my life — with that Spurs victory. Thank you Aga Khan Museum for the best samosas in town and its founder, His Highness the Aga Khan, for  building a museum that not only has incredible exhibits and programs but also provides a truly peaceful and healing  environment when you need it the most.

To the Museum staff at the cafe and the chef at Diwan I say: “Thank you for making delicious samosas. I hope to see you over again and again, and definitely when Tottenham qualify for the finals after victory over Ajax of Amsterdam.”

I urge Torontonians and everyone visiting the city to see the Aga Khan Museum. It is fantastic and caters to every age group. The Moon exhibition (until August 18, 2019) is magnificent and highly educational, and every member of your family will love it. Then treat yourself to the samosas and take some home with you.

Date posted: April 18, 2019.
Last updated: April 20, 2019.

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Photos and Video: The Aga Khan Museum Lights up its Facade with a Beautiful Show in the Dark

For 4 evenings, the Aga Khan Museum ran a repeating 15 minute video segment highlighting some of its programs and events on its main entrance wall. Approximately 4,000 people visited the museum during the light show held from December 27-30, 2018 between dusk and 9 PM…. MORE

Please click on image for video and photos

Date posted: January 1, 2019.
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Great Epics: Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (The Epic of the Kings), With Two Magnificent Illustrations from the Aga Khan Museum

Written a thousand years ago, Ferdowsi’s Shahnama or The Epic of the Kings tells the story of the Iranian people from the time of the world’s creation. National epic, landmark in world literature and a profound expression of the Iranian soul, Ferdowsi’s masterpiece is still read and recited throughout Iran.

I. THE EPIC OF THE KINGS, AN INTRODUCTION

The statue of Ferdowsi in Ferdowsi Square in Tehran. Photo: Wikipedia.

The statue of Ferdowsi in Ferdowsi Square in Tehran. Photo: Wikipedia.

By Nahal Tadjadod

In a square in Teheran, the capital of Iran, there is a statue of Ferdowsi [or Firdawsi, Firdausi etc, Ed.) where the poet holds his Epic of the Kings (Shahnama or Shahnameh, Ed.) in his hand and gazes at the peaks of the Alborz mountains. When I was young, my parents often took me to this place and while they looked on attentively I recited these lines by Ferdowsi:

“I have toiled painfully these thirty years. I have restored Iran to life by my verse. Henceforth I cannot die; for I live, having broadcast the seeds of my verses.”

These words were engraved in the memory of the child I was then and I know that they have shaped my innermost identity. There is nothing astonishing in that. For a thousand years Ferdowsi’s poem has been read, recited and copied in Iran. Even today it is recited in the cafés. Early on it became our national epic.

Why has it always been so popular? Not because of the originality of its subject the history of ancient Iran from the time of its first mythical king to the last sovereign of the Sassanid dynasty in the seventh century AD nor because of the novelty of its content. “What I will say, all have already told,” Ferdowsi claimed. The poet transmitted; he invented nothing. He drew on old oral traditions and on ancient texts such as the Avesta, a holy book of the eighth century BC, or reworked somewhat earlier tales on the same theme.

The First Masterpiece of Persian Literature

This illustration is from Shah Tahmasp I’s Shahnameh, one of the most remarkable Persian manuscripts, which was started when Shah Tahmasp returned to Tabriz from Herat in 1522. This illustration shows Firdausi, the author of the written version of the Shahnameh, with the three poets of the court of Mahmud, the sultan of Ghazna, a city which is now in modern-day Afghanistan. Firdausi left Tus, his native city, in northeast Iran, to seek out the patronage of the sultan for his Shahnameh. Before meeting with the sultan, he was confronted by three poets of the court who cornered him before finally acknowledging his superior talent. In this miniature painting a small black servant roasts a bird on a spit while young fine-faced boys bring wine and delicacies to the three Ghazna poets, seated, in the centre of the picture, on the grassy bank of a stream of water. Firdausi’s isolation is emphasized by his position to the extreme left of the main group, just where the composition spills over into the margin. Photo and caption credit: Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, Canada. Copyright.

This illustration is from Shah Tahmasp I’s Shahnameh, one of the most remarkable Persian manuscripts, which was started when Shah Tahmasp returned to Tabriz from Herat in 1522. This illustration shows Firdausi, the author of the written version of the Shahnameh, with the three poets of the court of Mahmud, the sultan of Ghazna, a city which is now in modern-day Afghanistan. Firdausi left Tus, his native city, in northeast Iran, to seek out the patronage of the sultan for his Shahnameh. Before meeting with the sultan, he was confronted by three poets of the court who cornered him before finally acknowledging his superior talent. In this miniature painting a small black servant roasts a bird on a spit while young fine-faced boys bring wine and delicacies to the three Ghazna poets, seated, in the centre of the picture, on the grassy bank of a stream of water. Firdausi’s isolation is emphasized by his position to the extreme left of the main group, just where the composition spills over into the margin. Photo and caption credit: Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, Canada. Copyright.

This immense poem of 50,000 couplets appeared in the tenth century, at a key moment in the history of Iranian culture. Since the fall of the Sassanids, the literary language of Iran had been Arabic. Middle Persian, the main vehicle of Sassanid civilization, was disappearing. At this moment, a young literature in an Iranian idiom-Persian emerged in the east. Ferdowsi’s poem would be its first masterpiece.

The Epic of the Kings does not describe the deeds of a single hero or king nor even a long adventure. It begins with the creation of the world and relates the history of fifty reigns on three distinct planes: the mythical, the epic and the historical.

The first part relates civilizing myths. The Pishdadians, the “first created”, teach men to clothe themselves, to work metal, to master fire, to tame animals and to organize themselves in society. After ruling for 700 years, King Jamshid, succumbing to pride, has to yield his throne to a demoniac creature, the tyrant Zahhak who will rule for a thousand years. His malign power will finally be conquered by the justice-loving Faridun. These heroes, who personify the conflict between the forces of darkness and light, constitute a religious theme which is typically Iranian.

The second, longest and most truly epic part of the poem evokes the reign of the Kaianid kings. Here, in the centrepiece of the poem, light has triumphed. Rostam is the champion of all the heroes who live at the Kaianid court. Prodigiously strong, loyal to his king and faithful to his country, he is the terror of the enemy. This period is marked by interminable wars against Turan, a central Asian country whose ruler Afrasiyab is the sworn enemy of Iran.

In the final part, the poet presents a number of historical figures but in a rather fantastic light.  He gives a notable account of the conquest of Alexander the Great (Sekandar), based on the  Alexander legend of the Orient. The ending, even closer to history, tells of the exploits of the Sassanid rulers until the end of the dynasty.

Faridun and Zahhak: The Just man and the Tyrant

The story of Zahhak the tyrant, told in the first and most brilliant part of the poem, extols the  sufferings of a martyred people.

The courageous but wayward son of King Mardas, Zahhak is led astray by Eblis, the devil. After making a pact with Eblis, Zahhak usurps the throne. Revealing himself to the king in various forms, the devil extends his power further each day. One day Eblis presents himself in the guise of a cook. “The diet is not varied,” he says, “for flesh is not eaten,” and he wishes Zahhak to eat all kinds of viands, both birds and quadrupeds. When the devil, who has gained Zahhak’s confidence, embraces him, a black serpent thrusts its head out of each of the tyrant’s shoulders. Whenever he cuts them off they sprout anew like two branches of a tree. Then Eblis appears again, this time disguised as a physician, and proposes as a remedy that Zahhak should eat two human brains each day.

Thus for a thousand years the demons cause evil to reign and no one dares talk openly of good. But one night Zahhak dreams that he is laid low by a young prince who strikes him with a bullheaded mace and drags him in chains to Mount Damavand. Plunged in darkness, the world was as black as a raven’s wing. The tyrant consults the Mubads, the Zoroastrian priests, who read the stars and tell him that his vanquisher, who is not yet born, will be called Faridun. “He will hate you, for his father will die at your hand and you will also kill the cow that will serve him as nurse. To avenge the cow he will take up the bull-headed mace.”

Mad with anxiety, the king hunts everywhere for traces of Faridun. The blessed child is born at the same time as the most marvellous of cows. He is entrusted by his mother to the keeper of the park where the nurse-cow lives, and is nourished with her milk. One day Zahhak hears of the park and the cow, kills the fabulous animal and rushes to Faridun’s house. He finds no one there. Overcome with fear, Faridun’s mother has taken her son to Mount Alborz.

At the age of sixteen Faridun learns of his origins from his mother and decides to fight the tyrant. In  anguish Zahhak convokes all the elders of the land to seek their support. “I desire you to subscribe to a proclamation on my behalf that as commander in chief I have sown no seed but that of uprightness…and that I would never fail to maintain justice.” All consent except one man, Kava the Blacksmith, who rises in protest. “I am Kava, seeking for justice. Most of the wrong done to me comes from yourself. It is you who constantly thrust the lancet into my heart. Why do you inflict harm on my children? I had eighteen alive in the world, and now only one remains.”

Overcome with astonishment and fear, Zahhak restores the man’s remaining son to him and asks him in exchange to add his testimony to the proclamation. Kava reads the proclamation, tears it into pieces, and tramples them underfoot.

Kava leaves the palace and the people crowd around him. Fastening a blacksmith’s leather apron to a spearhead, he calls on the people to free themselves from the tyrant’s yoke. Followed by a multitude of the stout-hearted, Kava the liberator sets out in search of Faridun, who agrees to lead the popular rising. The people of the city and the army mass before the palace, whose guards dare not resist. Faridun rides into the palace without striking a blow and seizes the royal crown. Attacked by Zahhak, the young prince shatters Zahhak’s helmet with his bull-headed mace. At that instant the angel Sorush appears and stops Faridun killing Zahhak. “Do not strike him down,” he says. “His time has not yet come. Tie him securely inside the mountain.” Faridun then drives the tyrant into the mountains and wishes to strike off his head, but the angel Sorush appears again and tells him to leave the captive in fetters on Mount Damavand to endure an eternal agony.

Ferdowsi: A Poet of Human Grandeur

In the person of Faridun, an era of enlightenment and justice succeeds a long period of obscurity and tyranny. Here Ferdowsi returns to pre-Islamic traditions; he takes this idea of an eternal combat between good and evil from Zoroastrian eschatology. The interminable wars between Iran and Turan are the reflection of this. But Ferdowsi does not profess a naive dualism. He shows that these two principles coexist in everyone: human beings can do good as well as spread evil.

Thus, after a thousand years of tyranny, light and good seem to triumph: the new king, mandated by heaven, serves his people devotedly. But evil persists, it has not ceased to exist. This is what the angel means when he twice prevents the tyrant from being put to death. Zahhak is finally fettered on the summit of Mount Alborz as if to show by his existence that the victory of good over evil has not yet been won.

Ferdowsi bases his poem on the implacable force of destiny. This quintessentially epic theme echoes the sense of fatality which is so deeply anchored in the Iranian soul. And yet his characters are still men, torn and tortured by doubt and sensitive to the misfortunes of the age. They are to be pitied rather than condemned. Zahhak, the bloody tyrant, the symbol of cruelty, does not act freely; he has, after all, sold his soul to the devil. He is merely an instrument. As a great tragic epic poet, Ferdowsi thus creates terrible situations in which a man is led to kill his brother, or a father kills his son. Links of kinship add grandeur and resonance to the combat waged by the individual against higher forces.

The Epic of the Kings is still a living epic for Iranians because it is profoundly in tune with the Iranian soul. The Iranian peasant, even if he can neither read nor write, responds to the exploits of Rostam, the hero par excellence, and weeps to think of his sufferings when he is compelled to kill his own son to defend his country. Neither good nor ill will lastfor ever: the finest thing is to leave good deeds to be remembered by.

Ferdowsi’s voice still speaks to us across the ages.

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The above piece has been adapted from the September 1989 issue of The Unesco Courier which was dedicated to “Great Epics, Heroic Tales of Man and Superman.” Please visit http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco-courier/.

Quotations from the Shahnama in this article are taken from the translation by Reuben Levy which was published as The Epic of the Kings by Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, 1967) and features in the Unesco Collection of Representative Works.

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II. THE STORY OF HAFTVAD AND THE WORM 

A folio from Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp depicting the story of Haftvad and the worm. Photo and caption credit: Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, Canada. Copyright.

A  folio from Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp depicting the story of Haftvad and the worm. Photo and caption credit: Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, Canada. Copyright.

Story from the website of the Aga Khan Museum

In this tale the daughter of Haftvad is spinning cotton with her female friends one day outside the village and discovers a worm in her apple. She decides to keep the worm, regarding it as a lucky charm, and places it in her spindle case for safekeeping. She asserts that the worm will help her to spin greater quantities of cotton than she ever has before, and to her friends’ amazement her boast is realized. With each day she spins greater quantities of cotton and nurtures the worm by feeding it pieces of apple. When her father, Haftvad, learns of this, he takes the worm to be a good omen and over time it grows to fill a custom-made chest, and then a stone cistern. After five years, it is as large as an elephant and has to be housed in a fortress. As the worm grows, so do Haftvad’s fortunes. When King Ardashir learns of this, he becomes jealous and suspicious and plots to kill the worm. Eventually, Ardashir succeeds in penetrating the fortress and kills the worm by pouring molten lead down its throat. The tale ends with the deaths of Haftvad and his sons, vanquished by Ardashir’s army. This painting, one of a few signed works in the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp I, is among the last added to the book. A signature, reading “Dust Muhammad painted it” (savvarahu Dust Muhammad), combined with written sources, identifies the artist as Dust Muhammad Musavvir or Dust-i Divana. Although the implications of the signature remain unclear — did he design the composition and/or execute the painting in whole or in part? — the painting is one of the strongest in Shah Tahmasp I’s Shahnameh. The vignette of Haftvad’s daughter spinning cotton at the lower left activates the pictorial narrative, but the remainder of the painting is conceived as evidence of Haftvad’s good fortune. The village, an aggregate of many finely made buildings, bustles with the activities of daily life. A muezzin makes the call to prayer as two figures sit atop a building consulting books with the tools of a scribe set down beside them. Elsewhere in the village, figures transport bundles of wood gathered from the countryside and carry sacks of goods, while a butcher serves a customer. The painting is replete with many other details of the everyday and depicts the elements of its extra-urban landscape with equal depth and complexity.

Date posted: Monday August 17, 2015.

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For more on the Ferdowsi and the Shahnameh please also visit:

  1. http://www.agakhanmuseum.org; and
  2. Listen to http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p7dcv

Ottawa’s Iconic Magazine Stores, and Specialty Print Magazines, “Azure” and “Arts of Asia”, on the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre in Toronto

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

Simerg's Merchant

Simerg’s Merchant

By Abdulmalik Merchant

I have lived in Ottawa for almost thirty years, and as a lover of magazines and newspapers I have been a weekly visitor to two great and noteworthy magazine stores in the downtown area, “The Globe” in the Byward Market area and “Mags & Fags” on Elgin Street, as well as “Brittons” located in the dynamic and eclectic shopping district in the Glebe neighbourhood. Brittons  abruptly closed its doors earlier this year, with a notice posted on the door that stated, “Due to changing times our business is no longer economically viable.” Mathematically, these stores have been visited by me alone approximately 1300 times! I have seen Prime Ministers, Bank of Canada Governors, ambassadors, politicians of every party and famous writers at these stores. Also, I may add that the idea for Simerg’s highly acclaimed series I Wish I’d Been There was conceived from a special issue of American Heritage magazine that I had acquired at Mags & Fags during the 1980’s.

Mags & Fags on Elgin was my favourite all along, not because of (Cuban) cigars or anything like that, but for the sheer number of magazines and newspapers that it carried from around the world. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s the magazine store even kept provincial and regional newspapers from around Canada, various USA States, as well from Africa (Al-Ahram, Egypt), the Middle East (Kayhan, Iran) and South East Asia. Gradually, over the years with the advent of the internet, the demand for newspapers declined, as did their availability at Mags & Fags. However, it remained the preeminent magazine store in Ottawa.

Mags & Fags before the recent transformation. Now the magazine section is confined to the shelf area shown at left. Photo: Mags & Fags.

Mags & Fags before the recent transformation. Now the magazine section is confined to the shelf area shown at left. Photo: Mags & Fags.

The store has undergone a major transformation, and the entire magazine holding is now on one side of the wall, and not as dominant as it once was. Almost 80% of the shop is now dedicated to specialty cards and gift items. I lamented this change to one of the store managers on duty recently, who told me that sales of magazines and newspapers have declined substantially because of their on-line availability. The exceptions, though, are luxury and specialty magazines covering travel, fashion, history, as well as arts, culture and science. Some of these magazines are incredibly beautiful and bold and, because of demand, continue to generate adequate revenues, keeping the magazine section robust.

The Saturday Evening Post, one of my regular monthly investments for its great features as well as wonderful health gems.

The Saturday Evening Post, one of my regular monthly investments for its great features as well as wonderful health gems.

Among the specialty or luxury print magazines that I came across this weekend at Mags & Fags, is the current July-August issue of Hong Kong’s “Arts of Asia” which carries an elaborate piece on the Aga Khan Museum with a collection of fantastic photos from the museum’s Islamic Art collection (for on-line piece, please click on first image shown below, but note that the downloadable PDF file available via the second column of the “editorial” page is huge at 15MB).

Earlier, I had purchased the May 2015 issue of the Canadian “Azure” magazine dedicated to the City of Toronto, with a nice piece on the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre (for on-line article, please click on second image below).

While I am happy to provide readers with links to the on-line articles, on a personal note I would say that the on-line versions do not do justice to their print counterparts which are alluring, and a joy to turn and read from page to page, and cover to cover. The magazines I have listed should be available at good magazine stores or newsagents in your area, and I might add that Chapters-Indigo has expanded its magazine section considerably in the last few years. The cover price of Arts of Asia is US$20.00 (selling in Ottawa for C$21.00), and Azure is under $10.00.

My weekly rendezvous with magazines and newspapers at Mags & Fags, the Globe and Chapters-Indigo will continue, and I hope to provide readers with information on outstanding print magazines that carry fine pieces on the Aga Khan Development Network and its agencies, as well as the Ismaili Imamat and the admirable Ismaili community, of which I am a proud member. To familiarize yourself with the Ismailis and His Highness the Aga Khan, please visit the websites http://www.theismaili.org, http://www.akdn.org and http://www.iis.ac.uk. An outstanding resource and referral blog for all things Ismaili is http://www.ismailimail.wordpress.com, a private initiative.

Please click on image to visit Arts of Asia. Then click on link

Please click on image to visit Arts of Asia website. Then click on link July-August 2015 article “THE AGA KHAN MUSEUM OPENS IN TORONTO” on second column of Editorial section to download complete PDF article (15mb).

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Please click on image for the Spectacular Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre

Please click on image for article “The Spectacular Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre.”

Date posted: August 8, 2015.
Last updated: August 9, 2015.

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We welcome your feedback. Please click on Leave a comment. For articles posted on this blog since its founding, please click on Table of Contents (2009–2015).

2015 Toronto Doors Open: Over 15,000 Visitors Explore Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre

BY ABDULMALIK MERCHANT

It is indeed a pleasure for Simerg to present a collection of photos with interviews that were done at the site of the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre on the occasion of  Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open held during the weekend of May 23-24, 2015. These two new Islamic gems were added to this year’s Doors Open exploration roster of more than 155 architecturally and culturally rich buildings across Toronto.

May 24th 2015 - Toronto's 16th Annual Doors Open. TheIsmaili Centre. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Ismaili Centre. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015, Toronto's 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum.  Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Park with Museum in background. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Park with Museum in background. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 - Toronto's 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

May 24th 2015 - Toronto's 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum Bellerive Room (Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection). Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum Bellerive Room (Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection). Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

The two iconic buildings were added to the Toronto landscape when they were officially opened last September by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in the presence of the patron, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) and 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. Prince Karim became the Imam of the Ismailis on July 11, 1957, when he was only 21. His Diamond Jubilee will be celebrated in 2017, the same year (and month) Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary.

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum, Diwan Restaurant. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum, Diwan Restaurant. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 - Toronto's 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum, gift shop. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum, gift shop. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum, gift shop. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum, gift shop. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 - Toronto's 16th Annual Doors Open. The Ismaili Centre, a briefing for visitors. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Ismaili Centre, a briefing for visitors. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

May 24th 2015 - Toronto's 16th Annual Doors Open. The Ismaili Centre. Visitors on the move to see other sections of the centre. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Ismaili Centre. Visitors on the move to see other sections of the centre. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

May 24th 2015 - Toronto's 16th Annual Doors Open. The Ismaili Centre. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Ismaili Centre. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum. Volunteer Mehdi Ansar. Photo: Malik Merchant /Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum. Volunteer Mehdi Ansar. Photo: Malik Merchant /Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Ismaili Centre. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Ismaili Centre. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. Visitors at the Aga Khan Park, outside the Aga Khan Museum. Background – the Ismaili Centre. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. Visitors tour the Aga Khan Park. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. Visitors tour the Aga Khan Park. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

May 24th 2015 – Toronto’s 16th Annual Doors Open. The Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg. Copyright

It is estimated that more than 17,000 people visited the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre during Doors Open. Visitors described their experience as rich, and complimented the hosts for their excellent organization and the explanations that were provided. Several Toronto residents said they would return to visit the museum’s collection of Islamic art in greater detail.

Date posted: Monday, May 25, 2015.
Last updated: Friday, May 29, 2015.

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The Aga Khan Park: Tranquil, Contemplative Space, and a Place to be Enjoyed by All to be Inaugurated on Monday, May 25, 2015

PHOTOS CAPTURE THE 5 YEAR EVOLUTION OF THE SITE

April 2010: Preparation

A photo from April 2010 of the site of the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and their Park as the trees were being removed to make room for the contruction.

A photo from April 2010 of the site of the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and their Park as the trees were being removed to make room for the construction. “No need to worry…the trees will be replaced,” wrote Jim Bowie for a photo essay for Simerg. Photo: Jim Bowie. Copyright.

It was officially announced in Jamatkhanas across Canada yesterday, May 17th, that the opening of the Aga Khan Park will, Inshallah, take place in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on Monday May 25th, 2015. The announcement also noted that arrangements are underway to webcast the event live as well as telecast the opening ceremonies at Jamatkhanas across the country.

This follows the opening last September of two architectural gems, the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre and Jamatkhana, which adjoin the Park.

September 2011: Construction

September 14, 2011. The return of the trees. Photo: Jim Bowie. Copyright.

September 14, 2011. The return of the trees, while the construction of the Aga Khan Museum (foreground) and the Ismaili Centre proceeds speedily Photo: Jim Bowie. Copyright.

The presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam once again in this country will be a source of immense grace and barakah, and the jamats across Canada truly offer their humble shukrana to their beloved Imam.

The Aga Khan Park is the newest addition to other civic green spaces established or restored by Mawlana Hazar Imam, such as the Al-Azhar Park in Cairo, Forodhani Park in Zanzibar, Khorog City Park, Babur’s Gardens in Kabul, and the parks currently under development in Burnaby and Edmonton.

September 2014: Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum Opening

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and Prime Minister Stephen Harpur at the opening ceremony of the Ismaili Centre on September 12, 2014. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and Prime Minister Stephen Harpur at the opening ceremony of the Ismaili Centre on September 12, 2014. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

Mawlana Hazar Imam explains the significance of the garden in Islamic cultures and its establishment in Canada in the following remarks made at the Presentation of the Gold Medal by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada in Ottawa in November 2013:

“… our faith constantly reminds us to observe and be thankful for the beauty of the world and the universe around us, and our responsibility and obligation, as good stewards of God’s creation, to leave the world in a better condition than we found it. The garden is, in this context, a particularly important space in Islamic cultures… Bringing such beautiful spaces to Canada is one of our intended contributions to the Canadian landscape. An example is the new park in Toronto which will surround the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre as well as new projects in Edmonton and Burnaby …”

The park’s architect, Vladimir Djurovic, describes its inspiring vision in the following manner in an interview in 2010:

“Our vision for the project is one that captures the essence of the Islamic garden and translates it into an expression that reflects its context and contemporary age. Embracing the five senses as the means to reach the soul, every space and garden are imbued with the delicate sensations that we seem to have lost in this fast-paced era.”

The Aga Khan Park is intended to be a space of tranquility and contemplation, and a place of beauty and reflection for the Jamat and the larger society. It is also designed to host educational programmes and outdoor gatherings, such as concerts and weddings. It will be an inviting space for diverse members of the larger community to meet, for families to gather and children to play.

It will be a place where people can take a walk, enjoy and immerse themselves in the beauty and majesty of Allah’s creation and perhaps also reflect upon the nature and significance of the two spectacular buildings that the park surrounds.

December 2014: Three Views of the Park

The  Aga Khan Park photographed in December 2014, with the Ismaili Centre in the background. Photo: Copyright. Rian Dewji, Toronto.

The Aga Khan Park photographed in December 2014, with the Ismaili Centre in the background. Photo: Rian Dewji, Toronto. Copyright.

The Aga Khan Park photographed in December 2014, with the  Aga Khan Museum in the background. Photo: Rian Dewji, Toronto. Copyright.

The Aga Khan Park photographed in December 2014, with the Aga Khan Museum in the background. Photo: Rian Dewji, Toronto. Copyright.

A panoramic view taken from the Aga Khan Museum, with the Ismaili Centre in the background. Photo: Rian Dewji, Toronto. Copyright.

A panoramic view taken from the Aga Khan Museum, with the Ismaili Centre in the background. Photo: Rian Dewji, Toronto. Copyright.

The Aga Khan Park is one of several significant Imamat institutions and projects established in Canada, including the Global Centre for Pluralism, the Ismaili Centres in Burnaby and Toronto, the Aga Khan Museum and the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat. Inshallah, through their respective functions and architectural idioms, these institutions will continue to express the aspirations, identity and values of our faith, such as respect for pluralism, the notion of a common humanity, search for knowledge and beauty, and balance between din (the sacred) and duniya (the material world).

In place of negative representations of our faith and the “clash of ignorance”, these “gifts” benevolently provided to us by Imam-e-Zaman will foster an increased and enlightened understanding of the faith of Islam, as well as stimulate dialogue and fraternity between different cultures and communities, which is so urgently needed today in a world filled with turmoil, intolerance and extremism.

Date posted: Tuesday, May 19, 2015.

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Aga Khan Museum’s “The Garden of Ideas” – A Fine Example of Collaboration and Partnership Between Artists, the Museum and Corporate Sponsors

“The Garden of Ideas” is a collection of fascinating, inspiring and vibrant works of art by a team of six Pakistani artists in the gallery spaces inside the Aga Khan Museum as well as outside in the Park. The exhibition received a major boost when three international corporate sponsors stepped in with a generous donation. The three sponsors, Aljomaih Group, Trimark Capital and Asharys are from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan respectively. Future sponsorships, along these lines, would immeasurably add to the hosting of other fine temporary exhibitions by outstanding local and international artists, and be a boon to the artistic community writes Malik Merchant of Simerg….Read more at Collaboration and Partnership Between Artists, the Aga Khan Museum and Corporate Sponsors

"Garden of Ideas" exhibition in the upper gallery of the Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Please click for article.

“Garden of Ideas” exhibition in the upper gallery of the Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Please click for article.

….AND FOR ONCE, ENTER THE AGA KHAN MUSEUM FROM THE INDOOR PARKING LEVEL AND BE WELCOMED BY ENCHANTING ART WORK

This magnificent display of ever changing panaromic display of images welcomes  visitors to the Aga Khan Museum as they enter its doors from the indoor parking garage. The parking level provides excellent resting facilities for Museum guests. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

This magnificent panoramic display of ever changing images welcomes visitors to the Aga Khan Museum as they enter its doors from the indoor parking garage. The parking level also provides excellent resting facilities for Museum guests. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

Simerg Photo Contest Commemorates Opening of Magnificent New Aga Khan Museum

Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and their Park Perfect Breeding Ground for superb photo taking and winning great prizes including free membership

By Malik Merchant, Editor

Te Aga Khan Museum Catalogue and special children's books at the Museum gift shop..

The Aga Khan Museum catalogue and special children’s books at the museum gift shop. Photo: Shellina Karmali.

Thursday, September 18, 2014, marked the public opening of the new Aga Khan Museum located on Wynford Drive in Toronto. Simerg marks the opening with a special photo contest in which a maximum of 25 prizes including youth and family memberships will to be given away to the top entries selected by a panel of three independent professional photographers, all from Ontario. The contest is open to all residents of Canada.

His Highness the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Stephen Harpur at the opening ceremony of the Ismaili Centre on September 12, 2014. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

His Highness the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Stephen Harpur at the opening ceremony of the Ismaili Centre on September 12, 2014. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

The Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre were officially on Friday, September 12, in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, members of the 49th Ismaili Imam’s family and invited guests.

A maximum of 10 annual memberships each for the YOUTH and OPEN  categories for the top photos selected by a team of three professional photographers will be given to the winning entries. The submission deadline will be December 31, 2014. The winning photos will be announced on this website and simergphotos.com on or around in late January, 2015. In addition to the annual memberships, the judges will pick up  5 photos deserving merit awards. The merit winners will each receive a $50.00 gift voucher,  entitling  them to make purchases from the Aga Khan Museum Gift Shop.

A selection of items at the Aga Khan Museum Gift Shop.

A selection of items at the Aga Khan Museum Gift Shop. Photo: Shellina Karmali

There will be two categories. The Youth Category will be open to anyone 19 and under. A maximum of 10 annual youth memberships to the Museum will be given to the winning entries.

The Open Category is for those over the age of 19. It will be for all amateur photographers and photography enthusiasts who like to shoot photographs, either using a camera or their smart hand-held devices and phones! For this category, each photo has to be accompanied by a 75 to 100 word narrative to encapsulate the photographer’s experience of the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre or their Park. Only spaces where photos are allowed to be taken will be accepted for the contest.

Men's ties at the Aga Khan Museum Gift Shop.

A selection of  ties at the Aga Khan Museum Gift Shop. Photo: Shellina Karmali

The opening few weeks of the museum will be the perfect breeding ground for passionate picture taking and writing a brief narrative, and if you are selected as a winner in the Open Category you will be one of 10 to receive an annual family membership.

Here are some ideas for taking and submitting photos: artistic and architecture beauty and grandeur of the projects, interior spaces including art work (where permitted) , landscape, nature (as in the park), as well as spontaneous moments involving people!

Jewellery at the Aga Khan Museum Gift Shop.

Jewellery at the Aga Khan Museum Gift Shop. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

The prizes are as a result of  gracious donations by numerous individuals and families in Canada and abroad. Simerg is deeply grateful to the sponsors of the prizes.

Each individual may submit up to 3 photos for consideration for the contest, all in high resolution. They should be mailed to simerg@aol.com, and accompanied by the photographer’s full name and address as well as telephone number(s) where they may be contacted.

Every photograph received (maximum 3 per individual) will be published on a special gallery page on this website. The judges will select the winners from the photos published in the photo gallery. The judges decision will be final.

Museum GiftshpWe are thrilled to host this contest and look forward to a fantastic response from the public.

Post updated: October 1, 2014.

The Official Opening of the Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum, a Reporter’s Glimpse

BY MALIK MERCHANT
Editor, http://www.simerg.com
Media room

Members of the media gathered at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre where they were briefed about the sequence of events for the official opening of the Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum. Numbering around 35, they were were shuttled in two buses to the Ismaili Centre across the street for the first opening ceremony. One bus carried press representatives carrying large specialized cameras and video equipment, while the second bus carried “reporters only” unrestricted of course from taking pictures with their hand held devices and cameras. Journalists from numerous newspapers, TV and Radio Stations, and Press Agencies from around the world were represented. Ismailimail and Simerg were also present. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

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A section of the gathering at the official opening of the Ismaili Centre. The social hall of the Centre was packed to capacity. Many members of the media had to take standing positions. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Photo Op

Journalists seen awaiting a photo opportunity with His Highness the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the upper terrace section of the Ismaili Centre. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

Aga Khan and PM 2His Highness the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Stephen Harper pose for a picture at the exclusive photo session accorded to members of the media. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

Aga Khan Musuem

A spectacular view of the Aga Khan Museum from the Park that divides it from the Ismaili Centre. A band seen in the picture at the left played music as guests arrived. Photo: Malik Merchant

Auditorium audience await arrrivalGuests invited for the opening of the Aga Khan Museum watch a live relay of His Highness the Aga Khan and the Prime Minister walk along the Park to the Museum building from the Ismaili Centre. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copytight.

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Recitation and translation of verses from the Holy Qur’an during the official opening of the Aga Khan Museum held in the museum’s auditorium. Seated (l to r):  Hon. Shelly Glover, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages; Prime Minister Stephen Harper, His Highness the Aga Khan and Prince Amyn Mohamed Aga Khan. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

Plaque Unveiling

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and His Highness the Aga Khan unveil the plaque to officially open the Aga Khan Museum. The museum opens to the public on Thursday, September 18, 2014. Henry Kim, Director and CEO of the Museum, is seen at the podium. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

Volunteer

A volunteer assisting with parking at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre poses for a photo following the event. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright.

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Thousands of Ismailis from Metro Toronto and surrounding cities gathered at the Direct Energy Centre to watch a live telecast of the official opening of the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Museum. This was followed by prayers, food as well as entertainment that included Indian and Central Asian dancing. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Copyright

Extended coverage of the opening ceremonies and speech excerpts to follow in the coming days.

Copyright: Simerg.

Date posted: Saturday, September 13, 2014

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Alternative post at http://www.simergphotos.com

Compendium of Ismaili Artists from Around the World: A Simerg Initiative

Simerg is delighted to introduce a preview edition of the long awaited arts compendium of Ismaili artists. The publication currently profiles 19 Ismaili visual artists from around the world, and more entries will be added as we hear from Ismaili artists – professionals and non-professionals alike. We ask that artists submit a brief profile and an image from one of their art pieces for inclusion in the next updated version of this unique “directory.” The updated version, which will be designated as the first official edition, will be published on October 1, 2014. To download or view the preview version of the compendium, please click on the image below.

TO VIEW/DOWNLOAD PDF PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGE

Ismaili Artist Compendium Cover with Thumbnails