Alumni Profile: Amin Jaffer '85 (Pre-U '86)
When questioned by friends as to what he would do with a degree in art history, Amin Jaffer paid no attention. Proving that following your passion and having faith in yourself are two essential components for achieving success, Amin pushed ahead, eventually building an exciting career in museums and the art market.
A true global citizen, Amin was born in Rwanda though he is of Indian origin. His formative years were spent globetrotting, either with his family or on his own, from Rwanda, Kenya, Belgium and England to Canada and the US. He made a stop in Montreal, where he arrived for the sole purpose of attending LCC and where the focus on culture and history played to his interests. Although he was going to pursue international relations at the University of Toronto after LCC, he came to realize that the cultural world was where he belonged.
In particular, Amin enjoyed the museum environment and, following graduation from U of T, he headed to London, England, where he enrolled in a master’s degree program at the Victoria and Albert Museum/Royal College of Art. Before completing the two-year program, he upgraded to a doctorate degree and indulged his fascination with furniture in India. “It is a subject that is rather esoteric but also of great importance because a significant cultural shift took place as a result of the encounter between west and east,” he says. “Before the arrival of Europeans in South Asia, Indians sat cross-legged on textiles on the ground. It was the Portuguese, British and Dutch who introduced elevated seating, which changed the way that Indians live.”
Upon completion of his doctoral thesis, Furniture in Early Colonial India, Amin landed a job as curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where he stayed for 13 years. During that time, he organized large-scale exhibitions, worked on V&A collections and authored or co-edited several books. “I think I am most proud of those publications,” he says. “When you write something substantial, it changes the way people think from one generation to the next. It changes their perceptions.”
Amin’s talents and expertise were in demand and, while at the V&A, he was recruited by the internationally renowned auction house, Christie’s. As International Director of Asian Art, he worked primarily on developing the Indian market and was responsible for Christie’s first auction in Mumbai, which set a record for the most valuable work of modern art ever sold in India. “Working at Christie’s was thrilling,” he says. “I was collaborating with some of the world’s top collectors and handling great works of art. Not only was it important to have an art background, I also had to call upon a wide range of skills. It was critical to demonstrate sound judgment. I needed aesthetic skills and had to be business savvy and operationally efficient.”
Despite the exhilaration of working in a fast-paced, glamorous environment, Amin recently decided to return to academic work and is currently the senior curator for The Al Thani Collection, a private collection of some six thousand works of art including an unparalleled holding of Indian gems and jewelry spanning four hundred years.
Amin acknowledges the influence of former LCC Headmaster Geoff Merrill in further developing this love of history that propelled his career. “Mr. Merrill was a real history buff and served as a great mentor,” he says. New to Montreal during his time at LCC, he also notes how the school reflected the diversity of the city with its mix of students representing different ethnicities. When asked what advice he might give LCC students today, he offers up some words of encouragement. “Don’t be frightened by life’s uncertainties,” he says. “If you enjoy something, then run with it.”