EWC Leadership Fellows Turn to Doris Duke’s Shangri La

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 EWC Group, Oct. 31innovative 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.

Pelin Esmer in Honolulu

Although Hawai‘i, as a crossroads between the United States, Asia, and the Pacific, is a very cosmopolitan place, it is rare to find connections to Turkish culture—and visitors from Turkey are even rarer. Shangri La was pleased to host Turkish filmmaker Pelin Esmer for a five-day residency January 10–14, 2014.

Esmer arrived on January 10 from snow-bound Idaho, the previous stop on her lecture tour. She seemed shocked as she emerged from Honolulu International Airport into the blazing sunshine and warmth. She was delighted to learn that her hotel sat on the beach in Waikīkī, and was able to add a daily swim to her busy schedule.

Pelin Esmer gives a talk at Shangri La about her experiences as a filmmaker.
Pelin Esmer gives a talk at Shangri La about her experiences as a filmmaker.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

Esmer’s first public presentation was on January 11—an afternoon talk at Shangri La about her experiences as a filmmaker. The talk was moderated by Dr. Vilsoni Hereniko, an award-winning Fijian filmmaker and professor of film at the University of Hawai‘i. That evening, Esmer introduced a screening of her award-winning film Watchtower at the Honolulu Museum of Art and answered questions from the audience following the film.

Esmer also gave a presentation and screened film clips to students enrolled in Global Studies classes at James Campbell High School in ‘Ewa Beach, which gave her a chance to experience O‘ahu’s more rural settings. The students enjoyed her clips and comments, and had many questions for her about how she writes the stories for her films, about how she gets her films made, and about everyday life for people in Turkey. Her presentation at Campbell High School was co-sponsored by the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, a Honolulu-based organization with a mission to promote greater awareness and understanding of international affairs and to strengthen Hawai‘i’s role in the Asia/Pacific Region.

Pelin Esmer with students from James Campbell High School. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
Pelin Esmer with students from James Campbell High School.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

In every presentation, Pelin Esmer clearly demonstrated that her stories about life, everyday problems, and the complexities of human emotions resonate with people worldwide. Those who were lucky enough to attend her events are already asking when she will return to Honolulu. Shangri La staff are grateful to Caravanserai for helping us bring such a wonderful and talented filmmaker to Hawai‘i. We hope that the transition from Honolulu to Anchorage, Esmer’s next stop, won’t be too much of a shock for her!

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.


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.

Journey to the East: Ruminations on a Sixteenth-Century Chronicle

Photo by Paul Chesley, National Geographic photographer

In January 2012, Venetian merchant Marco Polo paid a visit to Shangri La’s Playhouse, where he recounted—often humorously—his travels on the Silk Road and the difficulties he encountered attempting to communicate with Chinese emperor Kublai Khan.  The occasion was the premiere of Journey to the East: Ruminations on a Sixteenth-Century Chronicle, an original puppet theater presentation written and performed by father–daughter team Michael and Layla Schuster of the Honolulu-based Hourglass Theatre. Balinese gamelan master and musician Made Widana accompanied the production with original music.

“I always envisioned premiering Journey to the East in the Playhouse at Shangri La,” said Schuster, who played Marco Polo. “I felt that the integration of materials from the Middle East and South Asia collected by Doris Duke during her travels tells a visual story appropriate for Journey to the East.  The Iranian Qajar tilework that surrounds the fireplace and the stained glass window in the Playhouse provide the perfect backdrop for the performance.”

A variety of puppets, including marionettes from South Asia, represented the colorful cast of characters Marco Polo encountered on his journey. Textiles, costumes and objects that Schuster collected during his extensive travels throughout the Middle East and Asia decorated the stage and provided plenty of ambiance.

Photo by Paul Chesley, National Geographic photographer

Schuster, who has a doctorate in Asian theater, got the idea for Journey to the East two years ago in China. He saw an Afghani kilim (carpet) in a bazaar in Beijing and started thinking about Marco Polo’s travels and the complexities of trade and communication along the Silk Route.

As Curator of the East-West Center Gallery in Honolulu, Schuster has devoted his professional career to using material culture to tell stories and to increase understanding between East and West.  His daughter Layla, who played  a young traveler and several other characters in Journey to the East, has a background in South Indian puppetry and modern dance. She currently works as an educator and artist in projects that link theater and community. Michael added, “It was such a great experience working with my daughter Layla and having the opportunity of passing forty years of puppetry experience to her.”

East-West Center Senior Journalists Seminar at Shangri La: Bridging Gaps Between the United States and the Muslim World

East-West Center Senior Journalists Seminar participants onsite at Shangri La.

On August 25 and 26, 2011, 12 senior writers, reporters, editors and television producers from the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the United States gathered in the Playhouse at Shangri La to discuss U.S. Muslim relations, Islam in Asia, religious diversity, and the problems journalists covering these issues face.  Bridging Gaps Between the United States and the Muslim World was the theme of the East-West Center’s 2011 Senior Journalists Seminar, a travel and exchange program for journalists from the United States and Asian countries organized by the East-West Center and co-sponsored by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.  

 This year’s Asia participants traveled to Washington, D.C., New York, Colorado Springs and Honolulu to meet with government officials, community leaders, religious authorities and others active in the dialogue on Asian–U.S. relations; their American counterparts traveled to Manila and Mindanao, the Philippines, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, to do the same. The journalists were pleased to comment on the hospitality and openness on the part of the Muslim religious leaders who welcomed them during their travels. “[I was surprised by] the many varieties of and differences between countries in the way they practice Islam. It makes it clear that no one political size will fit all in terms of U.S. relations with Muslim majority countries” reported Jason Scanlon, FOX News Channel.

The theme of the seminar was "Bridging Gaps Between the United States and the Muslim World."

The two-day program’s wrap-up sessions at Shangri La were characterized by lively discussions touching on religion, politics and economics in Asia and the United States. “By bringing together participants from diverse religious backgrounds and allowing them to debate various issues relevant to the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world, we were better able to understand the religious diversity of the places we visited and to analyze the real causes of conflict,” said Md. Zahir Shah Sherazi, DawnNews, Pakistan.

For more information about this program, please visit: http://www.eastwestcenter.org/seminars-and-journalism-fellowships/journalism-fellowships/senior-journalists-seminar.

From the Director

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.