Heart breaking images from Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s ongoing “The Living Sea: Fragile Beauty” exhibition at the Ismaili Centre Toronto

The image of a snared dolphin that sunk my heart


The photograph by Prince Hussain Aga Khan of two dolphins swimming side by side had the greatest impact on me when I visited his exhibition The Living Sea — Fragile Beauty at the Ismaili Centre Toronto.

My eyes were immediately drawn to one of the dolphin’s tails, which had a black rope (presumably from fishing equipment) tightly ensnared around it. The rope had been cinched so tight over time that it was now embedded in the dolphin’s skin. My heart sank — such an intelligent yet helpless creature experiencing so much pain and suffering due to mankind’s irresponsibility with its creation.

I would like for the readers to think about something we can all relate to for a moment — pretend that one day you are walking barefoot on a beach, somewhat far from home. Suddenly, OUCH! You feel a sharp pain, and notice that you have accidentally stepped on a piece of glass that has become deeply embedded in the sole of your foot. Somehow, no matter how hard you try, you cannot remove the glass. No one is around to help you, so you are forced to walk all the way home; each step is a painful burden as the glass digs in, deeper and deeper. A few hours later you reach home, fetch a pair of tweezers, and thankfully succeed in removing the shard.

Habituated bottlenose dolphins taken by Prince Hussain Aga Khan at a site known as Dolphin Reef near Hurghada, Egypt, November 2020. Note the rope attached and digging deep into the second dolphin's tail
Habituated bottlenose dolphins taken by Prince Hussain Aga Khan at a site known as Dolphin Reef near Hurghada, Egypt, November 2020. Note the rope attached and digging deep into the second dolphin’s tail — impossible for a simple diver to remove. Photograph: Nurin Merchant/Simerg

This dolphin has no one to help it. In the scenario you just imagined, just like we use our feet to propel us forward, the dolphin uses its tail. Unlike the scenario though, this dolphin has likely been living with this injury for months, not hours. And one day, it is very probable that he or she will die from this injury.

This photograph highlights the damage that we continue to inflict upon nature and juxtaposes it with nature’s strong will and resiliency. I see it every day in my career as a veterinarian — animals are far more resilient and perseverant than humans, but this is because they have no choice but to survive, but to persevere.

We must be their voice. And we must always remember: nature’s resiliency cannot compete with our destruction. One day, just as this dolphin — an animal recognized by many scientists as a non-human person due to their high level of intelligence and ability to be self-aware — will succumb to its injuries, so will our ecosystems and the species who call it home (ourselves included).

Each and every one of us has a duty to protect, preserve, and conserve Nature and our home, Planet Earth. Without it, there is no us.


Plastic in the Oceans

Ismaili artists Al-Qawi Nanavati pictured at Prince Hussain Aga Khan's exhibition at the Ismaili Centre Toronto
Al-Qawi Nanavati, a graduate student pursuing Printmaking at the University of Iowa pictured at Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s exhibition The Living Sea — Fragile Beauty, at the Ismaili Centre Toronto; May 22, 2023. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg.


Originally from Mumbai, India, I have long been an artist and am currently pursuing a graduate program in Printmaking at the University of Iowa through an Iowa Arts Fellowship. My recent visit to Toronto happily coincided with the presentation by Prince Hussain Aga Khan of his exhibition The Living Sea: Fragile Beauty at the Aga Khan Museum. I then spent a considerable amount of time viewing the exhibition in the Ismaili Centre Toronto’s social hall and patio. I left the two events feeling inspired and motivated to do whatever I can to assist Prince Hussain in his goals of educating us and raising our awareness about the disturbing state of the oceans and its sea creatures.

The two images shown below captured my attention the most after hearing Prince Hussain speak about his passions and purpose behind the show. The images are mounted on a large panel in the patio of the Ismaili Centre. Titled Plastic Bag and Plastic Waste, they were taken in two different parts of the world, the Philippines and Sardinia, 3 years apart. I thought a lot about these two photographs long after I left the show. They were extremely poignant and show us a mirror into what we are doing to our planet.

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Plastic bags in ocean, Hussain Aga Khan, simerg
Two photographs captured by Prince Hussain Aga Khan of plastic bags in the ocean (top the Philippines, bottom Sardinia) that alarmed Al-Qawi Nanavati when she visited his exhibition The Living Sea — Fragile Beauty at the Ismaili Centre Toronto; May 22, 2023. Photograph: Al-Qawi Nanavati/Simerg.

Prince Hussain has caption notes accompanying the two photographs. For the first photo, taken in May 2017 in the Philippines, the Prince writes: “This was the most depressing thing I’ve ever witnessed.”

For the bottom photo, taken in August 2020 in Sardinia, Prince Hussain laments: “Unfortunately few, if any, effective solutions exist to rid our oceans of this ongoing problem. Most would be difficult to bring to scale. As long as mankind isn’t ready to give up plastic or capable of producing reliable alternatives, our marine environment (and others!) will suffer.”

Date posted: May 28, 2023.
Last updated: May 29, 2023 (reformatting.)


For Mother’s Day – and the rest of the week – don’t miss a very unique and unexpected “Mummy Hug” at Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s Living Sea Exhibition in Calgary


At Calgary’s Ismaili Headquarters Jamatkhana this morning, May 14th, 2023, attending members gathered in the social hall after prayers to celebrate a birthday with a cake. Spread across the “chai” and “mandazi” table were beautiful fresh rose stems. All mothers received a rose each, followed by inspiring prayers as well as tributes to mothers around the world from the Mukhi and Kamadiasahebs (leaders of the congregation.) It was absolutely refreshing to see beautiful smiles on the faces of all the mothers of all ages that early in the morning. But it was MOTHER’S DAY!

Sea Lions, Hussain Aga Khan
Sea Lions by Prince Hussain Aga Khan at The Living Sea – Fragile Beauty exhibition, Calgary, May 11-21, 2023. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

Hours earlier, before leaving home, I had sent individual Mother’s Day wishes to special friends I have known for many years. In response, one of them sweetly replied with fond prayers for my health and added the 4 letters HUGS!

At this, my thought immediately turned to a photograph taken by Prince Hussain Aga Khan in August 2018 in La Paz, Mexico. A small print as well as a much larger print of the photo appears at his Living Sea exhibition in Calgary that opened to large crowds on Thursday, May 11 — the stunning photographic exhibition continues at Glenbow at the Edison until May 21, and the entrance is free. The photograph is entitled “Moving Mummy Hug” and it is of a sea lion swimming with its baby, hugging it momentarily. The absolutely amazing photograph has touched the hearts of everyone who has seen it and one visitor said to me in a short interview for my first day’s report: “Prince Hussain captures moments with these animals that shows that they have this almost human characteristic — this love, this energy that really helps people relate to them and really feel for them…. He almost photographs them as if they are members of his own family…. It’s really a neat feeling that you have when you look at these, and I think of my own children and I think of these animals with their own calves, and its just unbelievable.”

Moving Mummy Hug by Hussain Aga Khan.
“Moving Mummy Hug,” captured by Prince Hussain Aga Khan in La Paz, Mexico, August 2018. Exhibited at The Living Sea – Fragile Beauty, Calgary, May 11-21, 2023. Exhibit photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

So, I say to everyone visiting today and for the remainder of the duration of the exhibition, view this photograph and others from close, from a distance and from different angles. Prince Hussain notes in the photograph’s caption, “There were about 8 sea lions in that location, all moving at different speeds and in different directions. But this duo seemed organized and even purposeful. The hug lasted seconds or less. It was completely unexpected.”

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers around the world and to all specials friends who are mothers!

Date posted: May 14, 2023.


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Please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents as well as visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah and Simergphotos. The editor Malik Merchant may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

A brief note on Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s beautiful photo book “The Living Sea” – get your copy before it sells out!


There are books around me, galore! And some of the oversized books in my collection are quite beautiful. In 2022, I added one more beautiful volume to my collection, “Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens” (read reflections by Nizar Motani.) I proudly have it on my tiny square living room table for me as well as everyone visiting me to enjoy. As Motani observed: “This epic volume and once in a life time publication should be an occasion of immense pride and happiness for every Ismaili murid and should belong in our homes.”

Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg

The photograph of my beloved Imam — Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan — on the front cover is a joy to see. It also serves as a source of strength in my daily life, and reminds me of his ancestry to the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) from whom he is directly descended and holder of the Hereditary Divine Seat of the Imamat. As the volume’s editor, Gary Otte could not have chosen a more vivid and warmer photo for the cover.

On Thursday, May 11, 2023, at the opening of Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s exhibition in Calgary, I acquired “The Living Sea,” a fully illustrated 320 page hardback edition of the Prince’s collection of sea animal photographs captured over the last few years. The exhibition hosts, The Glenbow at the Edison, were allocated 100 copies and, as of the 2nd day of the exhibition, they had already sold 25 copies (each @ CAN $80.00 + taxes, as applicable). According to the information that I have, there will be a total of 350 copies for sale in Canada — including Glenbow’s stock of 100. It appears that the volume, with its small print run, will have to go into second printing. The book is beautifully bound and printed in Spain.

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The Living Sea by Hussain Aga Khan, Hardcover, 312 pages, 24 x 33 cms, published by ‎ La Fábrica, 2022 simerg
The Living Sea by Hussain Aga Khan, Hardcover, 320 pages, 24.13 x 3.18 x 33.02 cms, published by ‎ La Fábrica, Oct. 18 2022.

The Living Sea Exhibition – Fragile Beauty exhibition (May 11-21, 2023, Calgary) is going to be etched in everyone’s memories forever, judging by the comments and the time that most visitors are taking to view the photographs, reading their captions as well as gathering facts and statistics on the fragility of the sea and its beautiful creatures that are posted on a number of panels. I therefore differ with the Ismaili community’s Al-Akhbar newsletter that says that “the exhibit can be viewed in approximately 30 minutes.” Indeed, Prince Hussain’s excellent timeline from 2004-2023 and profile alone require at least 5-7 minutes of reading time. I don’t recommend that visitors rush through an insightful exhibition such as The Living Sea in 30 minutes. I would recommend at least another 20-30 minutes!

And what when the exhibition winds down in Calgary on May 21? Its return to Calgary may be some years away. How are we going to preserve and cherish the memories of the Prince’s incredible insight into the sea and its creatures that we are being presented through the exhibition? How do we cherish the work he is doing and share them with our young children and youth?

This is where owning your own copy of “The Living Sea” becomes important. The book is insightful, and outlines Prince Hussein’s firsthand experiences he underwent to capture these emotive photographs. The electronic media is around, but nothing is as satisfying and pleasurable as holding a book in your hands, taking the time to flip through its pages as you read it. As parents, we will bring excitement and happiness to our children as we show them the book. Their astonishment will be reflected as they point or place their finger on the photographs. Most importantly, this will be an opportunity to educate our children at a young age about the fragility of the marine ecosystem, how vital it is to our existence on Earth, and how imperative it is that we work to protect it as well as all the creatures who call it home. I therefore recommend you to acquire your own copy of this marvellous volume. And many who will not visit the exhibition, will get a lot of satisfaction by owning the volume.

With regard to its prominent placement, “The Living Sea” and “The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens” will sit next to each other at an angle, so that they fit well on my tiny square living room table.

Date posted: May 13, 2023.


We welcome your feedback. Please click Leave a comment.

Please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents as well as visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah and Simergphotos. The editor Malik Merchant may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

Free exhibition, Calgary, May 11-21: Glenbow at the Edison brings you the phenomenal beauty and fragility of the ocean and its creatures through photographs of Hussain Aga Khan

For free exhibition tickets, please click The Living Sea: Glenbow at the Edison

“Given that humans live on land, we tend to have a rather terrestrial-centric view of the world. But when we consider that 98% of Earth’s biosphere, the place where life can exist, is made of water and that every other breath a human takes cycled through the sea, it becomes clear that the ocean is not only vital to our planet, the ocean is our planet” — Brian Skerry, in introduction to Diving Into Wildlife (2nd ed., 2015). Skerry is photojournalist and contributor to National Geographic

Photograph: Hussain Aga Khan/Diving into Wildlife
Photograph: Hussain Aga Khan, published in Diving into Wildlife, page 34. Click on image to reserve free tickets.

“The work of Hussain Aga Khan is visual poetry created in the sea that seduces the viewer to discover her mysteries and leads people to care ….Through his work, Hussain tells an important story. It is a story about a magnificent place he has explored, photographed and shares with us now. It is a story about a place quite unlike any other, and is a place that needs our help” — Brian Skerry, in introduction to Diving Into Wildlife (2nd ed., 2015)

Spaces for the “The Living Sea – Fragile Beauty” are filling up fast, so get your free ticket NOW by clicking on GLENBOW AT THE EDISON.

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Date posted: May 9, 2023.