Upcoming Traveling Exhibition: Doris Duke’s Shangri La

Doris Duke. Photo by Martin Munkásci, 1939. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

For the past two years, staff and consultants in Hawai‘i and New York been working hard to plan and organize a major traveling exhibition, Doris Duke’s Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape and Islamic Art. The exhibition will open at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York on September 7, 2012, and will then travel to five museums and galleries on the continental United States before returning to the Honolulu Museum of Art in March 2015.  It’s the first major exhibition about Shangri La to be shown outside Hawai‘i, and we’re very excited to share the story of Duke’s transformative engagement with the Islamic world and her work at Shangri La with national audiences.

Organized by guest curators Donald Albrecht, curator of design for the Museum of the City of New York and Thomas Mellins, architectural historian, with extensive support from DDFIA staff, the exhibition explores the synthesis of 1930s modernist architecture, tropical landscape and Islamic art that Duke achieved at Shangri La. The exhibit features large-scale, newly commissioned photographs by noted architectural photographer Tim Street-Porter that give visitors the “feel” of the site; archival materials that document the construction and evolution of Shangri La; and a selection of more than 60 objects of Islamic art from the collection.

The Playhouse at Shangri La, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. © Tim Street-Porter 2011. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

Six of Shangri La’s past artists in residence have even created new work for the exhibition. The artists’ contributions, which reflect their responses to Shangri La, will include

  • giant, vivid projections by Shahzia Sikander (b. 1969 in Pakistan, lives and works in New York) that capture the paradox of Shangri La, a place created by an American woman and filled with items from many Muslim countries;

    Unseen 3, Shahzia Sikander, HD-Digital Projection, 2011. Photo by David Adams.
  • lantern-like metal sculptures in the shape of missiles and rockets, evoking a sense of both violence and opulence, by Afruz Amighi (b. 1974 in Iran, lives and works in New York);
  • a video installation by Emre Hüner (b. 1977 in Turkey, lives and works in Berlin and Istanbul) capturing the hidden details of Shangri La, past and present;
  • calligraphic works by Mohamed Zakariya (b. 1942 in the U.S., lives and works in Arlington, Virginia) inspired by the physical landscape of Shangri La and its setting on the ocean;
  • poems by Zakariya Amataya (b. 1975 in Thailand, lives and works in Bangkok) reflecting the influences of both Southeast Asian Muslim culture and American Beat poetry;
  • conceptual art by Walid Raad (b. 1967 in Lebanon, lives and works in New York) exploring the shadows and reflections of Islamic art.
Tile panel, Turkey, possibly Istanbul, ca. 1650. (48.43) © 2003 David Franzen. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

We’ve got just seven weeks until the opening of the exhibit, and staff and consultants are extremely busy finalizing conservation work, writing condition reports, making mounts to support the objects on exhibition, reviewing and finalizing label copy, selecting archival images, etc.  Packing and shipping are right around the corner, and installation at the Museum of Arts and Design will take place during the last two weeks of August.

Exhibition guest curators Donald Albrecht and Tom Mellins have also edited an accompanying 216-page book, Doris Duke’s Shangri La: A House in Paradise, to be published in September 2012 by Skira/Rizzoli. The book features a portfolio of photographs by Tim Street-Porter and essays by Linda Komaroff (curator of Islamic art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art) about Duke’s collecting in the greater context of Islamic art collections in the United States; by Keelan Overton (curator of Islamic art, Shangri La) about the work Duke commissioned for Shangri La; by Sharon Littlefield (former curator, Shangri La) about the relationship of the collection to the architecture; and by the editors about Shangri La’s design and construction.

Below is the full tour schedule. Please drop us a line if you get a chance to see the exhibition. We’d love to hear what you think!

 

  • Museum of Arts and Design, NY (September 7, 2012–February 17, 2013);
  • Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, FL (March 16–July 15, 2013);
  • Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, NC (August 29, 2013–January 5, 2014);
  • University of Michigan Museum of Art, MI (January 25–May 4, 2014);
  • Nevada Museum of Art, NV (May 31–September 7, 2014);
  • Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, CA (October 23–December 28, 2014);
  • Honolulu Museum of Art, HI (March 4–July 5, 2015).

Installing the Damascus Room

The turmoil in Syria has been much in the news lately. With the opening of our Damascus Room, we hope to make visitors aware of this nation’s rich cultural heritage by letting them experience the world of 18th- and 19th-century Damascus.

View of the newly opened Damascus Room from the southeast corner. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2012.)

During the later years of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1923), when this room’s paneling was originally created, Damascus was a bustling and cosmopolitan trading center. Well-to-do residents entertained their guests in reception rooms generally known by the Arabic word qa‘a (hall) that featured elaborate ‘ajami woodwork (in which a raised surface of animal glue and gypsum was painted and then further embellished with metal leaf and/or mirrors) and luxury trade items such as textiles, glassware, ceramics and metalwork.

Georges Asfar in the retrofitted Damascus Room prior to its shipment to Honolulu. (Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.)

Shangri La’s Damascene interior was acquired from the Damascus- and Beirut-based firm Asfar & Sarkis (with whom Duke had been working since the 1930s) in 1953. The interior was then retrofitted by the al-Khayyat workshop of Damascus so that it would fit in the former “Spanish Room” at Shangri La. Doris Duke began installing the room in 1955, and it continued to serve as a guest room for nearly 40 years.

Over time, the temperature and ocean breezes, which make Shangri La such a pleasant place to visit, take their toll on buildings and objects. Thanks to the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC), the Damascus Room has undergone extensive conservation work, which identified and addressed areas of loss and damage. Now that treatment of the room is complete, we’ve decided to make it a part of our regular public tours. In fact, we’re proud to be one of only a handful of institutions that exhibit—and allow visitors to walk into—Syrian interiors of this type.

Conservator Kent Severson installs a pane of protective glass in the objects vitrine. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

In planning and installing this exhibit, one of the biggest challenges we faced was working with the historic vitrines. How were we going to install shelving without drilling holes through the original wood? And how were we going to protect the delicate objects on display in the east vitrine? Luckily our team came up with some innovative solutions: We used velvet-covered boards to support both ends of the glass shelves, and we slid multiple panels of glass (rather than a single large panel) into the object vitrine.

Curator Keelan Overton and I arrange original documents and photographs inside the archival exhibit case. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

Improvisation was indeed the name of the game. Conservator Kent Severson and consulting textile conservator Ann Svenson devised a method of hanging textiles inside the vitrines. They also suspended our photos and interpretive labels from the glass shelves using dabs of silicone and monofilament thread (dental floss was even considered, albeit briefly).

We all did our best to work with the room’s changing light, and its variable temperature and airflow. We hope that the resulting exhibit, which features archival displays (facsimiles and originals), as well as a range of textiles and objects that reflect both Doris Duke’s collecting interests and the domestic practices of late-Ottoman Damascus, will give you a taste of this elegant and fascinating world.

Film Experts Examine Persian Culture through the Cinematic Lens

On May 19, 2012, award-winning Iranian filmmaker Shahin Parhami; executive director of the Iranian Film Festival Australia Anne Démy-Geroe; and Asian film scholar Dr. Wimal Dissanayake participated in a symposium at Shangri La that focused on aspects of love and devotion in Persian culture. The symposium capped off a week of related activities that included film screenings at the Honolulu Museum of Arts’ Doris Duke Theatre and a public forum at the East West Center. All the events were made possible through a major grant from Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute to Asia Pacific Films and NETPAC/USA, and they were co-sponsored by the Honolulu Museum of Art and Shangri La.

Award-winning Iranian filmmaker Shahin Parhami; Jeannette Hereniko, founder of Asia Pacific Films; executive director of the Iranian Film Festival Australia Anne Démy-Geroe; and Honolulu-based film scholar and University of Hawai‘i Academy of Creative Media professor Dr. Wimal Dissanayake at the Persian film symposium at Shangri La.

Director Shahin Parhami (Nasoot, 1997; Lahoot, 1998; Jabaroot, 2003; Faces, 2007) opened the symposium with a talk entitled “The Roots of Iranian Cinematic Culture.” His lively presentation, which included clips from many classic Iranian films, examined the influences of Persian storytelling, poetry and visual culture on Iranian cinema. Parhami’s most recent documentary, Amin (2011), kicked off the Persian Nights film series at the Doris Duke Theatre.

In the next presentation, “Iranian Cinema and the Poetry of Rumi and Hafez,” Honolulu-based film scholar and University of Hawai‘i Academy of Creative Media professor Dr. Wimal Dissanayake explored the relationship between modern Iranian cinema and traditional Persian poetry in terms of themes, style, imagery and vision. He stressed the significance of poetry in contemporary Persian culture and underscored how strongly the works of Rumi and Hafez resonate in modern Iranian cinema.

Next up was Brisbane-based film scholar and executive director of the Iranian Film Festival Australia Anne Démy-Geroe. In her talk, “The Complications of Allegory and Metaphor in Iranian Cinema,” she focused on the themes of love and devotion as depicted in two very different Iranian films: Abbas Kiarostami’s My Sweet Shirin and Homayoun Asadian’s Gold and Copper. Kiarostami’s film focuses on womens’ faces and emotions as they watch a film based on the classic Persian love triangle between King Khosrow, Princess Shirin of Armenia and the sculptor Farhad. The imagery is constructed entirely though close-ups of the audience’s reaction to the movie they’re watching; the soundtrack is that of the movie being seen. In Gold and Copper a Tehran-based mullah-in-training struggles to take care of his ailing wife and their children. This moving film tells a story in a more linear way, and serves as a metaphor for other aspects of life in contemporary Iran.

AsiaPacificFilms.com

In conjunction with the symposium, the Doris Duke Theatre hosted a Persian Nights film series. Audiences loved Parhami’s Amin, the opening-night film, which tells the story of a young modern nomad from the south of Iran who dedicates his life to preserving and perpetuating the music of the Iranian Qashqai people. Other films in the series included Bahram Tavakoli’s Here Without Me, an Iranian adaptation of Tennessee William’s play The Glass Menagerie; and Ali Rafi’s Agha Yousef, a film about familial love.

If you’d like to learn more about Iranian films, check out these feature films and documentaries on the topic of “Love and Devotion in Persian Culture” (with introductions filmed onsite at Shangri La by Shahin Parhami, Dr. Wimal Dissanayake and Anne Demy-Geroe), plus a host of additional Iranian film classics on AsiaPacificFilms.com.