A giant replica of the Moon hangs from the second-floor ceiling of the Aga Khan Museum.

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British contemporary artist Luke Jerram has caught the moon. And it’s currently hanging from the ceiling between the upper and lower floors of the Aga Khan Museum for us to take a closer look.

To be more precise, Jerram has captured the essence of the moon in the form of an oversized replica from images taken by a NASA robot. 

It’s not exactly the real thing but it’s as close as we can get. Jerram’s creation is the centrepiece of the new exhibition, The Moon: A Voyage Through Time, mounted in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing this July 20. 

The museum says that when visitors come, they will have the opportunity to stand on an actual piece of the moon. The rest will remain a surprise because that’s all they’ll say. That’s in addition to viewing Jerram’s spectacular giant, floating sculpture entitled Moon, suspended from the second-storey ceiling and visible from below and from the balcony above. 

It is an amazing experience that feels like a happening. The internally illuminated replica moon features detailed NASA imagery of the lunar surface and includes a sound composition by BAFTA-winning composer Dan Jones. The Moon installation measures five metres in diameter. To get an idea of its size, they tell me it would take 40 people standing shoulder-to-shoulder to circle the sculpture. The exhibition is the Canadian premiere for the sculpture at this scale. Jerram created this larger version specially for the Aga Khan Museum show. 

The video inserted below shows the larger, more recent version created for the Aga Khan Museum in North York, Ontario, part of Toronto, while this video shows people reacting to the smaller version of Jarram’s Moon in the previous rendition of the moon sculpture.

The stories behind the pieces are fascinating and entertaining, especially when told on a private guided tour before opening day. In a preview of the entire exhibition, its curator Dr. Ulrike Al-Khamis, who is also the museum’s director of collections and public programs, tells me: it “belongs to everybody.” The Moon sculpture, she says, is “the ultimate unifier under which we can all come together.”

The many roles of the moon across cultures in the Muslim world

The exhibition also takes us back in time to show us that ancient cultures were just as fascinated by the mystery of the moon as we are today. Our timeless fascination with the moon has inspired spiritual growth, scientific discovery, and artistic creativity. 

Guest curator Dr. Christiane Gruber, a professor of Islamic art at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who mounted the exhibition with Al-Khamis said, The Moon: A Voyage Through Time “puts historical objects ‘in conversation’ with iconic scientific images, such as those taken from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA’s robotic spacecraft.”

The pieces on view span pre-Islamic times to the present day and is a remarkable undertaking. The exhibition is a major contribution to the field as it’s the first one that looks at the moon in this way. 

“We thought, there has never been an exhibition that looks at the role of the moon in Islamic art and culture over time and space within the context of the universality of humanity’s fascination with the moon over thousands of years,” says Al-Khamis, while on our tour. 

“ … the moon is ancient, the moon is wonder, the moon is knowledge, the moon is beauty, and the moon is eternal.” 

We have been “fascinated and captivated by its continuous and ever-changing presence in the night sky, something that is shared by all cultures, across time and across the world,” says Henry Kim, the Aga Khan Museum’s director and CEO. 

The exhibition combines historical and contemporary objects along with displays and interactive pieces that invite visitors to observe and imagine the moon in unexpected ways. We get to examine faith, science and the arts through ancient artifacts, paintings, scientific instruments for navigation and measuring time, Islamic manuscripts, contemporary artwork and even digital media. We are shown the many roles the moon has played across cultures in the Muslim world – as timekeeper, a source of inspiration for poets and artists, for its beauty and wonder, or as an emblem of the divine. 

The pieces are organized into five thematic zones to make them easier to understand for a wide audience – “the moon is ancient, the moon is wonder, the moon is knowledge, the moon is beauty, and the moon is eternal.” Every piece in the exhibition has a story. As we walk through, we learn that Al-Khamis is well-versed in multiple areas from art-history, gender, ethnography, and spirituality in relation to art, poetry and even on the architecture of moonlight gardens in India, where flowers, ignited by the light of the moon, saturate the evening air with perfume. 

She spoke of moon-faced women, with almond eyes, who were seen as the ideal of beauty. Chinese princesses in miniature Indian paintings, Egyptian queens like the mother of Hatshepsut carved in stone, lores of Mesopotamia (Iraq), stories and poetics inspired by Luna, from ancient manuscripts to modern-day authors, painters, metal-work artists, and videographers, all inspired by the moon.

The exhibition is an immersive experience, with activity zones for crafting moon calendars, to a full digital version of The Book of Wonders (Kitab al-Bulhan) that visitors can flip through. The permanent collection will have moon-related objects on display including a 14th century Spanish astrolabe inscribed in Latin, Hebrew and Arabic. Astrolabes are used for computation, navigation and to track the moon’s cycle. The Moon: A Voyage Through Time will be accompanied by related programming for families, tours, talks, workshops, a Moon Mission summer camp for children, and a spoken word/poetry performance series called MoonVerse

The Moon: A Voyage Through Time runs until Aug. 18, 2019. Entry is free. The Aga Khan Museum is located at 77 Wynford Dr., North York, Ontario.

I wrote this story back in March when I interviewed Dr. Ulrike Al-Khamis and toured the museum. Watch for videos and photos of the exhibition to be posted shortly.

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