In mid-August, my cousin and family gifted my mother and I a very sweet and thoughtful gift for our birthday. That gift was a chance to visit the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto which opened on September 12th, 2014.
The opportunity to explore the museum with family made for a very special afternoon. The architecture of the building itself and the contemporary planning of the gardens was a breath of fresh air. The use of clean-cut lines, the pouring in of natural light and the conscious use of geometric form both as space and as embellishment was pure perfection. We took every chance to explore the various artefacts on display in as much detail as possible, discussing their past, the way in which they have evolved and how their evolution plays a part in history past and present.
As we made our way through both the permanent as well as the temporary exhibits, we came across a piece dominating the museum’s atrium. As we marvelled at the craftsmanship of the carpet hanging from the high ceiling, a very kind attendant offered to give us more information about what we were looking at.
We found out that the artist’s name is Aisha Khalid, a prominent female artist from Pakistan who was commissioned by the Aga Khan Museum to create a site-specific piece for its opening. The piece was inspired by the age-old craft of the Persian carpet. A craft that has been passed down for decades from one generation to the next. This piece; measuring approximately 6 x 18 ft and weighs in at more than 100 Kg; was also inspired by a line of poetry by Rumi which also serves as its title: “Your Way Begins on the Other Side”.
The carpet depicts the Heavens with a pond in the centre where four rivers intersect. The rivers can be seen as a symbol for both the four corners of the Earth as well as the four elements that create the world as we know it. If you take a closer look, you can see that each of the four gardens depicted are mirror images of each other and reflect a very political standpoint of our worldly plight. That being: The survival of the fittest. In each of the gardens, serpents and vegetation intertwine and the weaker animals fall prey to their predators.
The biggest surprise was truly “on the other side”. When asked to guess what the carpet is made of, I immediately thought: “This isn’t a carpet?” We then turned to the other side of the ‘carpet’ only to discover that this entire piece was not an embroidered marvel after all; but rather an illusion of one that was made using over 10 million steel and gold plated pins that have been meticulously pushed through several layers of fabric including velvet and silk.
That was the moment of awe! The very thought of the process of creating such a piece just blew me away. It also gives an entirely new meaning to the piece that was meant to be admired from both sides. In doing so, Khalid has successfully turned the idea of what a carpet should be into question. A piece that is traditionally two-dimensional has been completely re-imagined into a three-dimensional sculpture that can only be fully experienced from both sides.
Many artists have explored the manipulation of carpets. However, I have yet to see one who has questioned its essence as boldly as Aisha Khalid has done here. The way in which she questions what a carpet should and shouldn’t be and what it represents has flung the artistry of carpet making into the 21st Century. Also, its very presence in the Aga Khan Museum atrium has created an unmistakable contemporary gaze upon the entire space and all that is in it.
If the “carpet” is meant to depict the Universe then one could even argue that Khalid’s piece is a very reflection of each of us. To quote Rumi, “Everything in the Universe is within you.” And if the Universe reflects perfection then I ask: What is your story behind your perfection?