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:
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.
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.
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;
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.
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).
This is an exciting time at Shangri La! As many of you know, we have recently completed recruiting a dozen new Interpretive Guides for Shangri La tours and I couldn’t be happier! All of the new guides have a diverse range of previous employment and personal experiences, but they all bring intelligence, enthusiasm and style to their tour that has already brought in a host of compliments from visitors.
A ten week training course for both new and seasoned guides commenced in August and explored the latest in Islamic art research, educational interpretation and museum visitor motivations. The highlights of the guide training included dynamic lectures by Shangri La staff, such as our Curator of Islamic Art, Keelan Overton, Executive Director, Deborah Pope and yours truly. The training took place at both the Honolulu Academy of Arts and Shangri La, with the last three sessions being full-day events held at Shangri La. During the Shangri La sessions, staff and guides collaborated to integrate key interpretive goals and themes into each space.
This fall has also afforded the opportunity for Shangri La staff to critically evaluate the existing tour route, its contents, and the general visitor experience. Through this self-reflective process I’m pleased to share that we’ve made some changes which make the visitor experience at Shangri La even better! These recent changes include rotations and adjustments to the display of objects in several of the rooms, such as the Living Room. Previously only viewed from behind stanchions, visitors can now enter the Living Room and walk through it. By entering the Living Room through the Diamond Head door visitors can now clearly see the importance of the East-West axis which Shangri La was architecturally designed along. In one sweeping panoramic view visitors can take in the sight of Diamond Head, the South Shore of Oahu, the Playhouse, pool and cascades, and Living Room; with the sight line terminating in the beautifully framed Mihrab. This carefully orchestrated view and significant architectural concept was previously minimized in the tour route. This and other enhancements allow for greater appreciation of the art, natural beauty and ambiance of Shangri La (if you haven’t been on site lately, you’ve simply got to come now!).
The high point of guide training came at the end with a Recognition Ceremony and Pau Hana Party in Shangri La’s Moon Garden. Stacy Pope, a new Interpretive Guide, summed up the guide training experience best, stating “the training really opened up a new world for me, a world filled with the beauty of Islamic art and the diversity of the Islamic world. This has been a great experience and continues to be — I feel so lucky to be a part of Shangri La and share it with the public!”
My sentiments exactly Stacy! We’re lucky to have you too and all of our excellent new and seasoned guides.
We are delighted to open The Door to Shangri La and welcome you inside. Like many museums and arts centers, we do so much of our work out of the public eye- in part because of our location in the middle of the Pacific, in a residential neighborhood with limited access; and in part because research, collections care, and conservation by their very nature take place “behind the scenes.” We welcome the opportunity the internet provides for us to open our doors to wider audiences, to share our work, and to broaden our horizons. Frequent blog posts will focus on new research, visiting artists and scholars, events onsite and in the community, and the latest surprises revealed by ongoing conservation work.
When Doris Duke first wrote the codicil to her will calling for Shangri La to become a place for the study and understanding of Islamic art, she clearly envisioned the preservation and opening of her home and collections for educational programs. She may not have foreseen the power of the internet to bring Shangri La and its cultural assets to homes, schools, and workplaces around the world, but it is in the spirit of her vision that we launch The Door to Shangri La, expand our website and broaden our partnerships. I hope you enjoy this encounter with Islamic art, visit our blog often, and share this site with friends who may be interested in learning more about our research, conservation, and programs.