Drawing upon the rich history of the Fatimid civilisation — a nexus of knowledge, culture, and trade spanning the Mediterranean, southern Europe, and the Near East — the exhibition brings together pieces from over a dozen institutions from the United Kingdom, Spain, Greece, and beyond. The World of the Fatimids includes 37 artefacts from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquity’s collection, including five unfinished marble slabs which are on public display for the first time. In addition, the exhibition features luminous ceramics, intricate rock crystal carvings, Kufic calligraphy, decorated luxury goods, monumental architectural fragments, and drone videography of the site where the original Fatimid court originally stood.
Aga Khan Museum CEO, Mr. Henry Kim, introduced Prince Amyn, who highlighted the far-reaching impact of the Fatimid empire. “The Fatimids pursued a policy of tolerance and inclusiveness, of pluralism hardly matched by any other Muslim dynasty of the medieval period.” Prince Amyn further noted that the period was a renaissance, marked by ‘exceptional creativity’ and new discoveries in astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, and the arts. “Fatimid Cairo became a flourishing center of scholarship, the sciences, art, and culture to match its pre-eminence in trade and commerce.”
The Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, helped inaugurate the exhibition and celebrated the work of the museum, saying: “the Aga Khan Museum’s work is so vital because you blur the boundaries between disciplines. You build bridges between cultures through unique experiences and learning opportunities. You're a catalyst for mutual understanding and tolerance. The launch of this exhibition, the World of the Fatimids, is an example of what you do best.” She hoped that visitors, “will see within the territories of the Fatimid caliphate… a pluralistic society where arts of all kinds flourished and where, among the world's oldest and most celebrated universities and libraries, were fertile ground for social innovations that would forever shape humanity.”
Curator Dr. Assadullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani provided further perspective on the intellectual and artistic freedom of the Fatimid era by highlighting the 'staggering diversity of iconography’ and ‘permanence of fun’ in the art of the period. He cited as an example, a bowl featuring an eagle in heraldic posture, a noted royal symbol, where “the eagle actually grins and seems to be laughing like a living cartoon. Here we have a royal symbol which is treated with amusement.” Dr. Melikan-Chirvani added that such expressions were undoubtedly taken with the blessing of the Caliphs, highlighting the tolerance and support of open expression under Fatimid rule.
The evening was closed by a special musical performance inspired by the pluralism of Fatimid-era Cairo by the Al-Qahwa ensemble, a quartet of Egyptian, Iranian, Greek, and Hungarian-Irish performers.
The World of the Fatimids exhibition is on display at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto from 10 March – 02 July, 2018.