‘Enchanting orb’ as part of new exhibit on moon draws visitors to Toronto museum

A giant sculpture of the “enchanting orb” known as the moon is drawing visitors to the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.

The sculpture, made of nylon, weighing 80 kilograms and covered with printed imagery of the lunar surface, is the centrepiece of The Moon: A Voyage Through Time, a new exhibition that explores the role of the moon throughout history, in faith, science and the arts, particularly in the Muslim world.

The exhibition opened on Saturday, marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in 1969. It brings together a lunar specimen, paintings, scientific objects, manuscripts, animated films, metalwork and ceramics to convey the wonder, magic and importance of the moon to many cultures.

Everything from moon rocks to a portrait of the Roman goddess Luna are on display.

“It’s being received really well,” Christiane Gruber, co-curator of the exhibition and a professor of Islamic art at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbour, told CBC Toronto on Saturday.

“We’re thrilled to see so many families. There are groups of kids coming in. They are interacting with our astrolabes. They are interacting with our little digital film that shows a rabbit chasing the moon. They are using typewriters. They are looking through the craters.

“There’s a jovial, transcendental atmosphere in there. It’s really alive.”

The moon sculpture, which hangs from the ceiling above an open space, connects the first and second floors of the museum. British artist Luke Jerram, originally from Bristol, created the giant replica moon that measures five metres in diameter.

A hum and a musical soundtrack accompany the sculpture. Inside the orb, there is a fan cooling the lights that illuminate it.

“I think the moon has played a pivotal role in the human imaginary since time immemorial, across all world cultures. We all look up to it. We all are illuminated by it. And it breaks the terror of darkness in the night. For us, it is a symbol of hope, and we project our desires onto it.” Gruber said.

‘Landmark exhibition’

The exhibition is divided into zones that focus on the meaning of the moon in Islam. It looks at the role of the moon in Islamic faith and spirituality, sciences and the arts, including notions of beauty and power, and in the pre-Islamic ancient world.

Gruber said the hope is that the exhibition will deepen understanding of Islam and appreciation of the Muslim world. “An exhibition focusing on the moon in Islam has never been done. So for us, it’s a landmark exhibition,” she said.

She said the moon is considered a time-keeping device and noted that the Islamic calendar is a lunar one. She said the Qur’an speaks about the moon and the moon is associated with the Prophet Muhammad.

“The moon has had a very strong role in the articulation of the Islamic faith and spirituality. In a way, it keeps time for the major ritual activities of the Islamic faith,” she said.

When visitors enter the exhibition, they will see phases of the moon that glow in the dark. When they turn around, they will find a piece of the lunar surface, a lunar rock, embedded and encased in the floor.

‘Cosmic and celestial’ feel

“They’ll be able to walk above it and take a selfie, as if they are walking on the moon themselves. It feels quite cosmic and celestial the minute you walk in. And that kind of feel carries throughout the show, all the way until the end, at which point the visitor will be confronted by the large-scale moon sculpture,” she said.

“It’s the apex. Visitors will be to spot it along the way. We have made a little peek-through area, with telescopes and binoculars, but that is really the big bang, so to speak, at the very end. It is internally illuminated, so it glows.”

The giant sculpture is special, she added, because it combines art and technology. It is a sculpture, but its surface is NASA imagery. On the ground floor, the curators have laid out a big carpet containing an image of the cosmos, with some large cushions to enable people to rest in the “moonlight” below the orb.

The exhibition runs at the museum until August 18.

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