“People who come through the Ismaili Centre stop here to take in the beauty of this artwork,” says Mohamed Manji. The former President of the Ismaili Council for Canada is the coordinator of artwork at the Ismaili Centre. “We want to highlight different traditions to reflect the highly pluralistic makeup of the Jamat in Canada,” he explains.
In November 2014, after Khasan and Firdavs made the long journey to Toronto, they got to work quickly.
The process of creating plaster art is exact, lengthy and painstaking. First, they spent time creating an intricate pattern and scaling the artwork to ensure that it would have the desired impact in the vast foyer. They also tested the plaster to ensure that the materials were durable and would withstand time. Finally, they tested whether the pattern could be cut through plaster and would be visible on a white wall.
The result is a beautiful mixed floral design that gives the illusion of blossoming in front of you.
Khasan began creating this type of art as a university student in the 1970s, starting with wood, and then using plaster. He taught his four sons the same craft, and when Firdavs and his brothers saw their father’s stunning works, they fell in love with the trade.
Firdavs, who is a linguist by profession, says he is extremely fortunate to have learned his father’s artistry. The pair’s plaster work is also featured at the Ismaili Centre, Dushanbe.
“Since objects and artwork convey history and tradition, our goal was to showcase Islamic artwork in different mediums,” says Manji. “At the same time, we wanted to create a connection with other Ismaili Centres and so it was important for us to bring these and other artists to Canada.”
Although being so far from home is challenging, Khasan and Firdavs’ first impressions of Canada were of the people.
“Everyone we met made us feel very warm and did everything they could to ensure that our needs were met and that we were comfortable,” says Khasan. While they are used to living in a cold climate, Firdavs noted that with the strong wind, the Canadian winter felt particularly frigid.
The wall at the Ismaili Centre Toronto, which is more than eight metres long and almost three metres high, is expected to be completed by the end of summer. Afterwards there are plans for the pair to work on a smaller wall on the opposite side of the foyer. They are humbled that they get to show their artwork in such a prominent venue, and are motivated by visitors’ reactions to their art.
“This has truly hit a home run in the hearts of people who visit,” says Manji. “It’s very gratifying to know that people appreciate the artistic experience at the Centre.”