Harmony and Balance

What does a butterfly have in common with a plumeria flower? What does a pineapple field have in common with the parking lot at Ala Moana Center?

They all exhibit a quality called symmetry. And regardless of whether symmetry is naturally occurring or man-made, there’s no doubt that it appeals to both our eyes and our emotions.

“Symmetry and Islamic Art,” on view in the lobby of the Hawai‘i State Library from January 11 through March 16, explores symmetry as it relates to works of art in the DDFIA collection. Visitors are challenged to test out reflection symmetry by using a mirror, to create symmetrical shapes using pattern blocks, and to tessellate replicas of Shangri La’s star and cross tiles.

DSC01392

The exhibit also encourages visitors to identify and photograph examples of symmetry right here in Honolulu. Tweet your photos of symmetry, and tag @Shangrilahi and @HSPLSHIgov. We’ll re-tweet our favorites. First 10 respondents win a set of Shangri La notecards.

On Saturday, March 12, from 12:00-1:30 pm, scholar Carol Bier and ‘Iolani School math instructor David Masunaga will present a workshop on symmetry and Islamic art at the state library. Details:

Workshop: Symmetry in Islamic Art
Saturday, March 12, 2016, 12-1:30 pm
Hawai‘i State Library, 1st floor reading room
Ages 5 and up, 24 participants maximum
Instructors: Carol Bier and David Masunaga

Through hands-on activities in origami, cutting, and coloring, participants of all ages will enjoy creating designs and patterns. In these patterns we will find symmetry and geometry also present in works of Islamic art that can be seen at Shangri La, Doris Duke’s home in Honolulu, which is now a museum of Islamic art. Workshop leaders Carol Bier and David Masunaga are world-renowned for their study of geometric patterns; they will guide us through connections that tell us about intriguing and far-reaching geometric principles which lead us to an understanding of Islamic art.

Questions? Call the Hawai‘i State Library at 586-3500. Contact the library 10 days in advance to request a sign language interpreter or if special accommodation is needed.

About the instructors:

Carol Bier is an historian of Islamic art who specializes in the study of geometric patterns in art and architecture. Her award-winning website, Symmetry and Pattern: The Art of Oriental Carpets, is hosted by The Math Forum, an extensive on-line resource for mathematics education under the auspices of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Formerly curator at The Textile Museum in Washington, DC (1984-2001), she is currently a visiting scholar with the Center for Islamic Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and research associate at The Textile Museum. She serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts (London).

David Masunaga’s interests have always been diverse, and he feels especially blessed to be able to pursue four things which bring him much joy: mathematics teaching at the precollege level, teaching adult professional educators in new classroom techniques and technologies, pursuing his mathematical research in modeling convex polytopes, and lecturing at hundreds of professional meetings, institutes, and universities.  David has numerous national awards for his work in mathematics and mathematics education, is a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching, and is past director of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. He fills his precious free time playing the oboe and other double reed instruments professionally and has played in Carnegie Hall twice, once soloing on the English horn. He and Carol Bier presented the first public lecture on Doris Duke’s Shangri La estate, which is now a museum of Islamic art.

Special thanks to the Hawai‘i State Library for hosting, and to our library colleagues Tisha Aragaki and Kristin Laitila!

symmetry_workshop_flyer_hsl

 

Seeing the Light in Dallas

Need another reason to go to Dallas, besides the Texas barbeque and jalapeño cornbread?  The exhibition Nur: Light in Art and Science from the Islamic World is on view at the Dallas Museum of Art after its debut at the Focus-Abengoa Foundation in Seville, Spain.

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:

Incense Burner
Incense Burner
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.)

 

Torchstand
Torchstand
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.)

 

 

Turban Ornament in the Form of a Bird
Turban Ornament in the Form of a Bird
India (Jaipur), 19th century
Enameled gold, gemstones
Overall: 4 1/2 x 3 x 1 1/2 in. (11.4 x 7.6 x 3.8cm), 44.43a-b
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2007.)

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.

Candleholder
Candleholder
Manises (Valencia, Spain), 1651-1725
Tin-glazed earthenware, molded, luster-painted
25.2 x. 23.5 x 12 cm
Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, Madrid
[CE19289]
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.

patty condition reporting

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!

Three Swan-necked Bottles
Three Swan-necked Bottles
Persia, 1779-1925, Qajar
Glass, dip-molded, blown
Green: H. (max.) 35 cm, Diam. (max.) 11 cm
Blue: H. (max.) 38.5 cm, Diam. (max.) 10.5 cm
White: H. (max.) 37.5 cm, Diam. (max.) 11 cm
The British Museum, London
[1877,0116.43, 1877,0116.44, 1895,0322.4]
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.

po boys

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.

Shangri La’s Curator of Islamic Art

Keelan Overton, Curator of Islamic Art at Shangri La

Following an international search, The Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art welcomed Keelan Overton into the position of curator of Islamic art at Shangri La on June 27. I am so pleased to have Keelan join our staff. She is a very thoughtful and well-regarded young scholar who is passionate about the educational role museums play in today’s society—especially at a time when we all need to have a better understanding of the Muslim world.

Keelan will be responsible for the research, interpretation, and display of Shangri La’s collection, which includes more than 3,500 pieces of Islamic art. She will also develop programs to enhance Shangri La’s role as a center for education, scholarly research, and exchange. We’re looking forward to helping her plan exhibitions, residencies for scholars and artists, educational outreach programs, and occasional symposia and publications.

Even though Keelan has only been here for a little over two months, she has adjusted quickly and really hit the ground running! She says she’s “very pleased to be back at Shangri La and grateful to once again be surrounded by the Aloha spirit. This is a very exciting moment for the institution, and I am currently focusing my efforts on exhibitions planning, guide training, and increasing Shangri La’s exposure within the international community of Islamic art history.”

Keelan holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Art History from the University of California, Los Angeles (2011) and a master’s degree in Art History from Williams College in Massachusetts (2004). She is also no stranger to Shangri La. She first came here as an intern in 2003 and returned as assistant curator from 2004 to 2005. Keelan has since worked as a research assistant in the Art of the Middle East Department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and as an instructor and teaching assistant at UCLA. She is the recipient of a University of California President’s Fellowship and a Theodore Rousseau Fellowship from the Department of Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which supported extensive travel and research in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and India.

Welcome, Keelan. We’re thrilled to have you here!