Ganzeer, a recent artist-in-residence at Shangri La, participated in POW! Wow! Hawaii’s week-long art festival this past February.
Ganzeer, meaning bicycle chain in Arabic, is the pseudonym of choice for this dynamic Egyptian artist. To be clear: he is not an author, comic book artist, installation artist, painter, speaker, street artist, or videographer, though he has assumed these roles in a number of places around the world. Rather, he is the chain that connects the pedals to the wheels–the mechanism that allows the bike to move. In the face of Egypt’s consecutive revolutions, he is a connector of ideas, a conduit of the energy generated on the street.
There are several ways you can keep an eye on Ganzeer in the upcoming months:
At the Honolulu based East-West Center, an education and research institution for public diplomacy, cooperative study, and leadership development faculty are tasked with training ambitious, emerging international leaders to create a peaceful, prosperous, and just Asia Pacific community. To ensure relevance, trainings often involve a project based, service learning experience with a partnering community organization or business based in Hawaii.
In the past, partners supporting EWC experiential learning opportunities range from the Hawaii Food Bank to the US Department of State. Recently however, faculty of the EWC Leadership Certificate Program sought a case study that would help their fellows clarify and question how values and priorities can inform leader’s legacies while enhancing their cultural literacy.
The 2014 EWC Leadership Certificate Program cohort is comprised of ten fellows from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, and the Philippines. All are supported by the Asian Development Bank – Japan Scholarship Program (ADB-JSP) for graduate study at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Faculty determined that the Doris Duke story embodied in Shangri La, Duke’s former residence overlooking Diamond Head, provided the ideal case study. So they turned to the staff of Shangri La for help.
Seeking to utilize Shangri La as a laboratory, EWC faculty reached out to the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) who agreed to collaborate. They then tasked their Leadership Certificate Program cohort with a seemingly simple leadership challenge: fulfill Doris Duke’s legacy. However, seeking to simulate the high-pressure, short time frame conditions leaders find themselves in today, faculty challenged the cohort to complete the task in four weeks while still attending to their full-time graduate study at UH Manoa.
Fellows began by reflecting upon the leadership styles and approaches of Duke and DDFIA’s leaders as well as the organization’s position of leadership in the community. Fellows then attempted to develop expertise in Islamic art & culture through visits and discussions at Shangri La and the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Through in depth conversations with Carol Khewhok, Program Manager at Shangri La, fellows realized the need to build on successful past projects of DDFIA and align their ideas with the following more specific leadership challenges:
What educational events can DDFIA use to break through prejudices and stereotypes against Islam?
What types of new programming can DDFIA develop that reach a diverse public while adhering to the conditional use permit for Shangri La?
How can DDFIA address the severe conservation needs faced by the collection given the property’s location and the open-air nature of the museum?
At the end of the four week module, EWC Leadership Certificate Fellows pitched their responses to the Shangri La Executive Director Deborah Pope and Program Manager Carol Khewhok in what faculty term a “Reality Test.” Also joining were the EWC Director of External Affairs Karen Knudsen, EWC Education Director Terance Bigalke, EWC Dean of Education Mary Hammond, EWC Director of Leadership Programs Scott Macleod, and fellows from other EWC leadership programs.
A few of the EWC Leadership Certificate Fellows innovative proposals included:
A DDFIA sponsored certificate program at the University of Hawaii facilitated by the East-West Center to increase understanding and break through prejudices and stereotypes against Islam
A walk through virtual reality tour of Shangri La hosted at the DDFIA partner Honolulu Museum of Art to increase exposure without violating the limitations set by the conditional use permit
A natural disaster resilience plan for severe tsunamis, fires, or hurricanes that could threaten the structural integrity of the facilities housing the collection
Fellows diversity enabled them to go beyond applying knowledge gained from past professional experience in their home countries. The interdisciplinary background of the cohort, which includes Urban Planning, Law, Public Policy, and Economics, enabled them to offer unique perspectives and insights from their different fields and thus a broader range of innovative ideas.
Shangri La leaders provided helpful and meaningful feedback for the EWC Fellows work. “I really enjoyed the presentations and was impressed by the participants” commented Ms. Pope. “I was frankly excited to see Shangri La used in this very active, engaged way.”
About the Guest Author: Lance Boyd is an international leadership educator at the East-West Center. Lance’s experience in Asia includes two Fulbright Fellowships in Japan and Singapore, service as a USAID environmental education consultant for ASEAN, and an Earthwatch funded researcher on insectivorous bats in peninsular Malaysia. In Europe, Lance studied as an undergraduate in Austria, completed a MA at the International School for Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, and completed a Goethe Institute funded study of the environmental movement in Germany. While working for the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science he also earned a MA in Education Foundations.
Doris Duke was a woman of many interests and pursuits, which ranged across cultures and included exploring art, music, and architecture. Shangri La offers events and programs that reflect the eclectic nature of Doris Duke’s taste by providing live musical and dance performances, lectures, presentations, art installations, and more, all in a very inviting and comfortable atmosphere. The artists and guests that visit Shangri La are so diverse in their fields and backgrounds that I thought it would be a good idea to get to know them a little bit better. I interviewed our most recent artist in residence, Amir ElSaffar, an award-winning trumpeter/composer.
Amir embodies the very distinctive nature of Shangri La’s performances. He is recognized for incorporating traditional Iraqi Maqam with jazz and other contemporary music—an unlikely combination. He has created his own artistic style by exploring this new musical territory. A recent recipient of the Doris Duke Artist Award, he is also director of a few ensembles at Columbia University, curator of Alwan for the Arts, an Arab cultural center in New York, and is working on new commissions and collaborations. As of next month, Amir will be recording a new piece from his 2013 album, Two Rivers, that will be released in the summer of next year. Below is our interview:
Maida Besic: I read that the first instrument you learned to play was the ‘ukulele, is that right?
Amir ElSaffar: Yes, the first instrument I played was ‘ukulele, a local Hawaiian instrument. My mother played ‘ukulele and flute. We had this baritone ‘uke in the house that was my grandmother’s; I learned to play on that. Eventually I went to play guitar. I played folk music, Beatles songs, and then I moved to the electric guitar and was playing rock music. This was all between the ages of nine and thirteen. That was my earliest musical education.
Your father emigrated from Iraq, but Iraqi music wasn’t a large part of your upbringing. How come?
When my dad left Iraq…in 1953, I think he was trying to leave a lot behind him and move on to living in the West and being part of society in the States…. He didn’t seem to put much effort into maintaining the connection with his Iraqi roots. So speaking the Arabic language, [Iraqi] music, and Islam were not much a part of our upbringing. He didn’t try to make an active attempt to instill that in us, but there were Iraqi families in the neighborhood that we used to have dinners with and maintain some kind of connection with.
Iraqi music is a large part of your music now. You traveled to Iraq and Europe—trips spanning five years—to learn how to play the Maqam from traditional Iraqi musicians. What inspired that trip?
It was a gradual process, wanting to connect to the music of my ancestry, music of the Arab world…. I think when I was around twenty years old or so, [my sister] played a recording of an Egyptian trumpet player. I had to listen to it three or four times before I even recognized the instrument because he was playing it in such a different way and such an authentic way [with regard] to the tradition that it didn’t even sound like a trumpet at all. I never imagined that the trumpet could work in this music. So that was when I got my first inkling to start studying, and at the time I was getting a degree in classical trumpet and studying jazz. But after graduating college I decided to start understanding more of this tradition. I went to Egypt, met with this trumpet player a couple of times—didn’t really get a lesson but just heard him play up close, and got to talk to him a little bit…. When I moved to New York, that’s when I decided to study the music in a more serious and disciplined way, as a way of having something to offer.
What is the Maqam tradition?
Maqam is a general term that describes the modal system and melodic system of the Islamic world. In Iraq, Maqam has a more specific meaning: it is a composition, and has a beginning, middle, and end. It’s very, very strict in a way, but once you learn all of the rules, you can have all kinds of freedom and variation. So when you say “Maqam,” it has a much more general meaning, and “Maqam Iraqi” is a particular genre.
And what was it about the Maqam tradition specifically that drew you to the music?
I started studying different traditions—Egyptian, Tunisian, Lebanese, Syrian—but as soon as I heard the Iraqi Maqam I was like, what is this? I had to understand. I went to Baghdad, [where] I had a couple of really good teachers. I had a good entryway. It’s very composed but improvised at the same time. There is a very blurred line between composition and improvisation that was really interesting to me. The emotional content of it was so powerful, so strong, and really spoke to me on a lot of levels. Every time, I would learn a little bit. I wanted to understand more and more, so it blossomed in that way.
You also learned the Arabic language as a result of your trips. Did learning the language help you connect with the music on a deeper level? Is that something you purposely wanted to do?
The music is primarily vocal. It really depends so much on the poetry. The Arab culture is so much enamored with poetry and the spoken word—even the Quran. The power of the Quran is just the words themselves, the sound of the word, the way the grammar is used, which is why the translations of the Quran are never really successful in translating the deeper meaning, other than just the literal sense. So definitely that was an important element, and I don’t think I could have learned Maqam without having learned the language as well. Once I started to understand the poetry, the music came to life in this other way.
What are some of the common themes in the Arabic music/poetry of Maqam?
They are mostly love songs or love poetry. There are two genres in poetry. One is the qasida, which is the classical form throughout the Arab world; the other is the called zuheiri, and it’s a seven-line form that is in dialect. The qasida is universal in the Arab-speaking world. The main subjects that find themselves in the Maqam are those that deal with love and longing and sometimes a sense of loss, but always striving for or trying to reach the beloved. It can have this very literal reading or interpretation, or there’s always this divine, Sufi [element]—a much larger longing—so that often the poems can read in two different ways.
Why did you name your most recent album Alchemy?
Alchemy had to do with introducing the microtones, these quarter tones that don’t exist in western classical music. It was taking the quarter tones and putting them into the harmonic system of western music because all of the chords of western music are based on using the twelve notes. So I was introducing these other microtones into elements of western music, and a lot of other possibilities started to open up—new chords and new harmonies. That’s where the idea started. It was less about bridging Maqam and jazz, and more about something very musical, in that sense. It also connects to my name, which means coppersmith. Copper is an alloy:, it’s always a combination of two or three different metals…so that was something else I had been thinking about as well.
What are you currently working on?
I have a new piece that I composed for Two Rivers in 2013. It was a Newport Jazz Festival commission also funded by the Doris Duke Foundation that I’m going to be recording next month for summer release and [going on tour to support]. The next big composition is called Rivers of Sound. That’s with a large ensemble, a seventeen-piece group that’s going to perform at Lincoln Center Atrium in New York, and we have some future gigs in 2015 and 2016 already planned. I’m going to spend the first three months of the year writing for that project. It’s the largest-scale work I have composed until now.
What has your experience at Shangri La been like?
It’s been incredible—the combination of environment, being in Hawai‘i, this incredible ocean view and the sun in the morning…being in a warm place in November, that goes without saying. But of course this home that Doris Duke has so tastefully and remarkably put together and getting to explore the different rooms has been incredibly inspiring. Especially when going to places like Syria and Baghdad is not possible. It’s not the same, but practicing in the Syrian and Damascus rooms has been really inspirational…. Maybe, sometime in the 1800s, there was a group playing music in this room. What was that music like? Even if it’s just my imagination, it gives me a lot of ideas and inspiration. It’s been really wonderful, and I don’t know in what sense exactly…there’s a feeling of Doris Duke’s presence. And it could be just what she left behind and how she intended for her legacy to continue, but I really have a deep sense of gratitude to her and to everybody here, the whole staff and interns. Everyone has been so lovely and wonderful.
I’m not sure if Doris Duke could have envisioned all that Shangri La has become, but I find that Shangri La, as a space for the community, accomplishes something similar to what Amir has done with his music. What on the surface appears to be odd and out of place—an estate dedicated to an Islamic art collection in the middle of the Pacific Ocean—is somehow very much at home in the Islands. Here at Shangri La, the faraway and foreign become familiar, offering visitors the opportunity to see life from a different perspective through music, art, and history. I feel a similar sense of gratitude to Doris Duke and what she has managed to create during her life, which continues to enrich the lives of so many others, from interns to artists and guests that visit from all walks of life and from all parts of the world. Showcasing how different elements can be combined, here is a video of Amir’s music.
We’d love to hear what you think. Please share any thoughts or comments below.
About the Guest Author: Maida Besic was an intern in Shangri La’s Programs Department during the fall 2014 semester. She received her undergraduate degree in psychology with minor in Islamic studies, and worked with the El-Hibri Charitable Foundation in supporting Unity Productions Foundation’s efforts in showcasing Islamic culture. She is currently a graduate student at the University of Hawai’i, majoring in higher education administration with a focus on international education. While at Shangri La, Maida assisted the Programs Department with evaluating programs and the visitor experience, and with conceptualizing, planning, and launching public programs.
The following is a guest post by Shangri La guide Susan Killeen.
While showing guests through the Syrian Room at Shangri La, one of my joys is lighting up the low tea table (65.9) under the nineteenth-century Moroccan embroidered and appliqued textile in the smaller room. It’s as if the table waits patiently in the dimly lit space to perform for visitors when the light shines, and it never fails to elicit a chorus of oooos.
The table, or khwan, is a beauty from late nineteenth–early twentieth-century Iran, probably the Qajar period. When created, it very likely did not have the same legs, and may have had short ones to elevate it just slightly. Rather than a table, this ornate piece was most likely an elaborate tray or “trencher” as it might be called. One might imagine that it once carried an array of sweet and savory dishes to be shared with guests.
An excellent example of the artistic genius found in Islamic art, the table asserts the details of geometry, calligraphy, floral, and figurative imagery—a visual delight. The surface is a painted, gilded, and lacquered wood graced with scenes of princely life. Exquisitely featured medallions or cartouches depict several figures in a forest landscape with a variety of birds and wild animals. A number of leisurely figures interact while two youths demonstrate their prowess on horseback. The overall dimensions of the piece are 11 3/8 x 32 5/8 x 62 inches.
A narrow, floral border frames the central panel. Inscriptions of Persian poetry surround the edges of the table, beginning in the upper right hand corner and continuing around to the left. True to the artistic culture and custom of the period, the poetry (translated by former scholar-in-residence Wheeler Thackston) praises the table for its beauty and service:
habbaza khwane ki naqshash bas khwash u zebasti
O what a marvelous table, the design of which is so pleasing! How beautiful you are!
hamchu chihr-i dilbaran janbakhsh u ruhafzasti
Like the countenances of charmers, you are life-giving and spirit-increasing.
rashk-i naqsh-i Azar u Mani ki naqshash chun nigar
A design so beautiful it would make Azer and Mani jealous.
dilsitan u naghz u khwash u zebasti
Ravishing, comely, beautiful, good, and charming you are.
inchunin alhaq qarin-i khanda khwan u naqsh band
Thus truly a table and design coupled with laughter.
diljo-i bazm-i shahanshah-i jahan-arasti
You are a comfort at the banquet of a world-adorning king of kings.
For me, the fact that an otherwise utilitarian object would be so charmingly embellished speaks to the fact that the arts have the power to lift us up and enrich the function and beauty of the everyday items we use. The artisans of Islamic culture certainly appreciated this concept as a way of life.
About the Guest Author: Susan Killeen is a writer and producer, having worked in television and on educational documentaries. She served as executive director of the Hawaii Consortium for the Arts and as President of the Honolulu Pen Women. She has taught creative writing and has worked as an interpretive guide at Shangri La since 2011.
Hemant Oberoi, Grand Executive Chef at the Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, and his colleagues, Chefs Shanty Prasad Nautiyal and Ashok Sangale, traveled to Honolulu for a week in October to help kick off a year of public programming in celebration of the opening of the Mughal Suite at Shangri La. On October 6, the chefs shared secret recipes and preparation techniques for contemporary Mughal-themed dishes with students enrolled in the University of Hawai‘i’s Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapi‘olani Community College. Following that, a second demonstration and tasting session was presented to 120 members of the general public.
Hemant Oberoi is a master storyteller as well as a highly innovative award-winning chef, who is credited with bringing Indian cuisine into a world-class arena. As he deftly sautéed chicken, a variety of select Indian spices, tomatoes, and pickled onions to demonstrate the preparation of murg khatta pyaz (naga chilli chicken—see recipe below), he talked about the importance of understanding traditional cooking techniques. “You should never forget your roots, or your roots will forget you,” he cautioned. He also imparted some sage advice to his audience of fledgling chefs from the culinary institute. “Be sure to learn the basics before you attempt fusion, or you will cause confusion,” he advised. The audience laughed when he told them, “You know, India had the original Iron Chefs! In the past, the chefs used real irons to press and flatten ingredients used in cooking.” He also had a bone to pick with the export of Indian cuisine. “For many years, London was our worst enemy,” he said. “There were bad Indian restaurants on every block, and people thought that was the real Indian cuisine. Fortunately, the situation is slowly improving.”
On October 9, members of the Honolulu chapter of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs were treated to an unforgettable meal prepared by Halekulani Executive Chef Vikram Garg, Chef Oberoi, and the Taj chefs. This event was organized to help raise awareness and funds for the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapi‘olani Community College. According to staff at the Halekulani, chefs Vikram and Hemant spent an entire week in the Halekulani kitchens cooking, comparing recipes, and experimenting with new dishes.
Hemant Oberoi and his colleagues topped off their week in Honolulu on October 11 by preparing a memorable Mughal feast for the opening celebration for Shangri La’s Mughal Suite. The Taj chefs worked with master chefs and students from the Culinary Institute of the Pacific to prepare and serve a truly outstanding selection of Indian dishes, including papadi chaat (chickpea dumplings with potato, yogurt, and tamarind chutney); dum ki nalli (aromatic slow-cooked lamb curry); and roasted-almond kulfi (Indian almond ice cream).
The legacy of the Taj chefs’ visit to Honolulu can be found in the events that brought master chefs, culinary experts, hotel professionals, students, and members of the general public together to celebrate their shared interest in one of the world’s great cuisines. This series of presentations by Hemant Oberoi and his colleagues was made possible by three-way co-sponsorship between Shangri La, the University of Hawai‘i’s Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapi‘olani Community College, and the Halekulani.
Chef Hemant Oberoi’s Murg Khatta Pyaz Chicken (PDF)
For the marinade
400g boneless, skinless chicken, cut into cubes
2 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
the juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp red chilli paste (made by soaking dried, deseeded Kashmiri chillies in water and pulverising them into a fine paste in a blender) or paprika powder
1 tbsp mustard oil or any vegetable oil
1 tsp garam masala
50g Greek yogurt
For the gravy
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin
150g chopped onion
1 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
60g chopped tomatoes
2 tsp red chilli paste (as above) or paprika powder
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp chopped ginger and garlic (1cm piece of ginger and 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped)
1 chopped green chilli
8 pickled onions
1 tsp chaat masala
a pinch of dry fenugreek powder
2 cup of fresh chopped coriander
Rub the chicken pieces in a mix of salt, ginger and garlic paste and lemon juice, and set aside to marinate for 20 minutes. Next apply the red chilli paste, mustard oil, garam masala and yogurt, and marinate for a further four hours. Preheat the oven to 230C/gas mark 8. Place the pieces of chicken across a deep baking tray and cook for 8-10 minutes, turning them occasionally. Remove from the oven and set aside.
To make the gravy, heat the oil in a pan, add the cumin seeds and cook until they crackle. Add the onion and sauté over a low flame until transparent and a light golden colour. Add the ginger and garlic paste, tomatoes and red chilli paste and cook for 20 minutes. Put the gravy to one side.
In a frying-pan, heat the oil and sauté the chopped garlic and ginger and green chilli. Add the gravy, cooked chicken and pickled onions and mix together. Season with salt. Garnish with the chaat masala, dry fenugreek powder and chopped coriander leaves.
Earlier this month, I was very fortunate to have attended the Society of American Archivists’ annual meeting in Washington, DC. The sessions were great, the weather was atypically pleasant, and it “just happened” to be restaurant week (thanks, SAA organizers!)—all in all, a memorable combination.
Before the conference even began, I attended an Electronic Records and Museum Archives Symposium hosted by SAA’s Museum Archives Sections’ Standards and Best Practices Working Group, of which I am a member. Like archivists in other types of institutions, museum archivists are receiving more and more born-digital material—often times on obsolete media (remember zip disks?) and/or in obsolete formats (Kodak photo CD files—ugh!). Much of this material documents important museum functions, and, as such, merits long-term preservation. But once we figure out how to read the files, how do we provide access to them and ensure that they are not altered?
At the symposium, archivists from a variety of museums shared what they were doing to manage their born-digital records. Strategies ranged from implementing commercial digital repository systems to using in-house expertise to customize open-source implementations to outsourcing to using a variety of free utilities to begin managing e-records. Like these other institutions, Shangri La is also dealing with the challenges of born-digital materials, so it was especially helpful to see the wide range of tools and strategies available to us.
During the conference itself, I attended sessions relating to web archiving, records management, and born digital records. I was especially interested in the web archiving sessions because Shangri La has recently expanded its social media presence, and we want to find ways of preserving and providing access to these records, which document our outreach efforts and what is essentially our “public face.”
Though SAA is a national organization, some sessions addressed issues that were international in scope. Members of the collective Librarians and Archivists with Palestine, for example, reported on their 2013 trip to meet with Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel, and on their formation of a network of information professionals committed to speaking out against the destruction of Palestinian libraries, archives, and other cultural property.
All in all, I learned a ton and left feeling energized by the great work my colleagues are doing. (And the goat cheese cheesecake with blueberry sauce wasn’t too shabby either!)
As we finish up our last week here at Shangri La, we can’t help but to reflect on the amazing experiences we have had over the past eight weeks. Spending an entire summer surrounded by exquisite Islamic art and architecture on the southern coast of Oahu proved to be quite an experience. As part of our ongoing art conservation training at Buffalo State University and Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation and in conjunction with the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, we were able to participate in a project to help preserve another part of Doris Duke’s historic home: the Syrian Room ceiling. The project involved thoroughly documenting the ceiling’s condition as well as the inch-by-inch consolidation of loose and flaking paint and decoration. Much of the degradation observed on the ceiling is likely a result of its close proximity to the salty waters of the Pacific.
Although Shangri La’s oceanside locale is visually stunning, the physical and chemical effects from salt-laden aerosols incurred by the art and architecture on site are not as breathtaking. Salt-filled air from the Pacific Ocean passes through the open corridors of the home: corroding metals, penetrating painted surfaces, and otherwise accelerating the degradation processes of a myriad of materials. The preservation of the site as a whole requires constant upkeep by conservation, curatorial, and maintenance personnel.
Given these aggressive environmental conditions (salt, water, heat- oh my!) and the current state of the ceiling, the required treatment was addressed using an “archaeological site approach.” Essentially, this site needs help, and it will not spend its life in a dim-lit, temperature and RH-controlled environment, so a more intense intervention is required. With syringes and paintbrushes in hand, we injected and wicked adhesive into every crevice and cupped paint flake necessary to prevent further flaking and cracking to ensure the stability of the surface as a whole. The project took us approximately one month to complete.
Shangri La conservator Kent Severson, ensured us that for the remaining four weeks of our internship, there was no shortage of objects to work on. The greatly anticipated opening of the Mughal Suite initiated our first project: the treatment of two Krishna sculptures. Both sculptures required the removal of corroded iron dowels and the reattachment of appendages with stainless steel dowels and polyester resin. Collectively, this summer we have been given the chance to work on sculptures and architectural elements made from schist, marble, stone, ivory, gold, and mother of pearl. The internship here at Shangri La provided a great opportunity to work with a truly unique collection made from vastly different materials and techniques.
We have learned a great deal this summer about Shangri La, Doris Duke, and the conservation of the collection, and we have also learned a great deal about Hawaii and Hawaiian culture and hospitality. It is with a heavy heart we bid adieu to our Shangri La ohana, we will miss you dearly!
Visitors to Shangri La love to pose with the two smiling stone camels (41.145.1-2) on either side of the front door. Even Doris Duke is known to have taken a photo or two with these camels. Here she is in 1939, posing with Sam Kahanamoku.
Originally from 18th-century China, the two camels were purchased right here in Honolulu, from high-end furniture retailer S. & G. Gump Company. The Gump’s store was located on Kalākaua Avenue, where the Louis Vuitton store is currently located, and the camels (or replicas of the camels—we’re not quite sure) were displayed on either side of their door, too. In March 1939, when construction on Shangri La was wrapping up, Doris Duke purchased the camels and installed them in her entry courtyard, where they’ve been ever since.
As Shangri La’s Collections Manager, I recently couriered three objects to Dallas for inclusion in the exhibition, which opened on March 30 and runs through June 29. “Nur” is the Arabic word for light, and the exhibition, which explores its multiple meanings, is organized into two major sections: one focusing on artistic techniques that enhance the effect of light, and the second focusing on scientific fields related to light or enlightenment. In addition to manuscripts, ceramics, and inlaid metalwork, among other objects, there are scientific instruments, including sundials, astrolabes, and anatomical instruments, which clearly illustrate the Islamic world’s hand in the European Renaissance.
Spanning more than ten centuries, the exhibition features 150 rarely seen objects from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the United States. DDFIA’s loan consists of the following trio:
Northern India, probably late nineteenth century
Jade; gold, silver, gemstones
Overall: 4 x 4 9/16 in. (10.2 x 11.5cm), 41.15a-c
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2010.)
Iran, Safavid, sixteenth or seventeenth century, no later than 1656
Copper alloy; cast, engraved, inlaid with black composition, traces of gilding
Overall: 17 1/2 x 8 3/4 in. (44.5 x 22.2cm), 54.112
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2005.)
As for that jet set crowd of couriers, there’s an endearing parental air that each courier inevitably conveys toward the artwork they’ve been entrusted to safely deliver. At international exhibitions such as this, couriers with varying degrees of jet lag hover, inspect, and in spare moments, coo over each other’s objects, which helps soothe the jangled nerves of a long journey and the unspoken hope that the next crate opened will be in as good shape as the last.
On the day of Shangri La’s object installation, I was delighted to meet two couriers from the Furusuyya Foundation in Liechtenstein delivering a veritable trove of goodies and a courier from Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, Madrid, Spain whose darling lustreware candlestick in the form of a horse and rider stole a few hearts.
Lending museum objects is kind of like arranging a playdate for your objects. It’s exciting to get to see familiar objects in a new context and strangely gratifying to see them displayed alongside works of art from other institutions—like watching your kids having fun at the playground or pups romping at a dog park, but, more formal (everyone’s wearing gloves after all), no sudden moves, and a lot less mud.
The days leading up to an exhibition opening are periods of intense activity. They are the culmination of months and even years of planning. Gallery spaces are cluttered with people, pneumatic lifts, crates, supply carts, ladders and display cases in transit. Registrars, in this case, DMA’s Patty Tainter, Associate Registrar, Exhibitions, orchestrated the arrival of the artworks, carefully staggering the dates of multiple couriers’ itineraries and lining up the staff needed to efficiently open crates, carry out condition reporting, and installation. Curators, in this case, Dr. Sabiha al Khemir, DMA’s senior advisor for Islamic art, have the final say on the object arrangement before the case can be sealed. With each crate being unpacked there’s a collective air of expectancy akin to a gift being opened; the relief that another object made it safe and sound, palpable. The objects in their custom-carved tyvek and ethafoam cavities, rest contentedly, endearingly familiar and blasé like a chortling baby in a crib oblivious to the surrounding commotion of installation activities.
DMA’s Associate Registrar, Exhibitions, Patty Tainter conducts a condition report of an incoming loan
There were many cases yet to be filled with treasures on that day, with the opening day still being two weeks out, but among my favorites was this trio of beauties from the British Museum. It’s all about the display. The dramatic lightbox effect for this willowy group of rosewater sprinklers calls to mind a glamorous trio of 1960s Motown girl group singers. Meet the Supremes!
Dallas Museum of Art is one to watch. It is soon to receive one of the world’s leading private collections of Islamic Art, the rarely exhibited Keir Collection, which will make DMA’s Islamic art holdings the third largest in North America (after the Met and Smithsonian’s Freer-Sackler Galleries). The Keir Collection is slated to arrive at DMA as a long-term loan beginning in May 2014. Go Dallas!
P.S. When you’re in Dallas, don’t forget to try a po boy. I hopped a free trolley ride across from the DMA to find mine. You’ll see the light at first bite.
The following is a guest post by conservation intern Kayleen Roberts.
In the Syrian Room at Shangri La, there is a pair of gilded wood, mirrored doors (64.9.2). The doors are from the Late Ottoman period of Syria. In 2010, they underwent extensive conservation work by students from the Winterthur conservation program in Delaware. Although the overall condition of the doors is stable, they are still very fragile, especially the hollow, wooden parts. Recently this fragility came to be realized during a routine cleaning, when part of the wood element was broken off of the door.
As a new conservation intern, I couldn’t help feeling daunted after being handed a plastic bag full of tiny wooden fragments awaiting their chance for repair. Although I was worried, this challenge also left me eager: I had a project. This project was different from the others, which for the most part involved immense amounts of cleaning. It was a test of my manual dexterity, my patience, and my desire to pursue a career in conservation. I accepted this challenge and devised a plan.
Research: what is this piece’s conservation history?
Documentation of the current condition, both written and photographic.
Treatment proposal: what is the best way to make this repair?
Carry out the plan for treatment.
Treatment report, both written and photographic.
After completing the research and condition documentation, the first part of the treatment consisted of matching as many fragments as possible to their adjacent pieces, like a puzzle. Once the fragments were matched up, I used an adhesive and pieces of Japanese paper to join them. When the fragments had dried, voids were filled with a mixture of microscopic glass balloons and resin to reinforce the repair. The newly joined fragments were then reattached to their corresponding places on the wooden door, again with Japanese paper and an adhesive. Voids behind the repairs were filled in the same manner as voids in the fragments: with microscopic glass balloons and resin. Fill materials were coated with a layer of gloss acrylic emulsion medium and then toned with acrylic emulsion paints.
Although this was a seemingly impossible task at first, I was able to complete this project with the help and guidance of Kent Severson, Shangri La’s conservator. I think of this repair now as the first “big” conservation project that I have been assigned. In the end, I’m sure it will seem to be such a small project, but for now, I am happy to say that I am proud of the work I did.
About the Guest Author: Kayleen Roberts has been living in Hawai‘i since 1995, when she and her family moved here from southern California. Her interest in the arts goes as far back as childhood, when she would spend time making jewelry. Throughout high school she took various art classes and continued to do so when she started attending Windward Community College in 2008. During her college education, she was able to travel to South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia, which exposed her to a plethora of art historical traditions. In June of 2013, she graduated from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa with a BA in art history and shortly afterward, she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy! In August she started working as a pre-program conservation intern at Shangri La, which will give her the necessary experience to apply to a conservation graduate program.