Paris, France, 3 December 1999 — His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims, today expressed the hope that more initiatives such as well-researched publications, exhibitions and scholarly exchanges by academic and cultural institutions in the West, "could help deepen public understanding of Islam and its intellectual and artistic heritage."
The Aga Khan was attending the formal launch by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and the Presses de l'Universite de Paris-Sorbonne of a new series of publications on Islam. The first volume in the series, L'Egypte Fatimide: Son Art et Son Histoire, brings together the contributions of over fifty eminent scholars who participated in an international colloquium on the subject in Paris in May 1998 co-sponsored by AKTC.
Others present at the launch at the Institut du Monde Arabe included the Egyptian Ambassador to France, Mr. Ali Maher El-Sayed as well as representatives from the French government, the diplomatic corps, UNESCO, academia, cultural organisations and the media. Also attending were Prince Amyn Aga Khan (the Aga Khan's younger brother) who is a Director of AKTC and Prince Hussain Aga Khan (the Aga Khan's younger son), who has specific responsibility at the Aga Khan's Secretariat for AKTC's programmatic activities.
Commenting on the inaugural volume, its editor, Marianne Barrucand, Professor of Islamic Art and Archaeology at the Sorbonne said "the art and culture of the Fatimids is the expression of a remarkably tolerant multireligious and multiethnic society, the source of impressive material prosperity and of an unprecedented creative vitality." The Sorbonne's newest series, according to Mme Brigitte Taillebois, Collections Editor at Presses de l'Universite de Paris-Sorbonne, "will bring together in publications of quality, the works of authors already well-established in the field as well as specialists engaged in new areas of research relating to the Islamic world."
Concurrent with the colloquium whose proceedings are set forth in L'Egypte Fatimide: son art et son histoire, the Institut du Monde Arabe had launched a four-month long exhibition entitled "Tresors Fatimides du Caire" which brought together from public and private sources, the largest collection of art and artifacts ever exhibited relating to the Fatimids, a dynasty whose rule extended over two and half centuries across North Africa and parts of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The collection was subsequently exhibited at the Kunstlerhaus Museum in Vienna, Austria from November 1998 to February 1999.
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture, established in 1988 in Geneva, Switzerland, is a private, non-denominational, philanthropic foundation. Recognising that buildings and spaces are physical manifestations of culture in societies, past and present, the Trust seeks to improve the quality of built environments in societies where Muslims have a significant presence. The Trust is a member of the Aga Khan Development Network, a group of private, international development agencies and institutions working to improve living conditions and opportunities in the developing world, particularly in Asia and Africa. The Aga Khan, who is the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims, is directly descended from the Imam-Caliph al Mahdi who established the Fatimid dynasty in North Africa in 909 C.E.
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture is also a founding member of the Association Aga Khan created in France under the Law of 1901. The Association Aga Khan, earlier this year, signed an Accord of Co-operation with France with a view to creating closer linkages in the fields of social, cultural, economic and humanitarian endeavour.
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