INSIDE HAWAII INC.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Amy Landau, curator of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, stands in the Turkish Room at Shangri La, the former residence of tobacco heiress Doris Duke.
Smithsonian can’t compare to Shangri-La
The curator of Doris Duke's Islamic art collection sees its scholarly potential
Question: What intrigued you about the Shangri-La, bringing you from the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. to Honolulu, Hawaii?
Born: Stamford, Conn.
Degrees: Defending her doctoral disseration this month in Islamic art and archeology, University of Oxford.
Job: Curator, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art
Responsibilities: Research, interpretation and display of Shangri La's collection of more than 2,500 pieces of Islamic Art.
Old Job: Research assistant to the curator of Islamic Art, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institute.
I am most intrigued by the enormous potential of Shangri La, both as a museum and as a center for scholarly and artistic exchange. I am also intrigued by Doris Duke's intellectual curiosity of cultures so different from the one with which she herself was familiar.
It was at the young age of 22 when she embarked on her mission to build the home defined by aesthetically powerful references to a variety of cultures both Islamic and Hawaiian. She herself studied these cultures first hand through her own ambitious travels, as well as through avid reading and lively interaction with scholars, architects, poets, art dealers and artists from America, Europe, Morocco, Iran and Egypt, for example.
Q: How about the move to Hawaii?
A: I was a bit apprehensive about the move here, as it is so far from friends and family. But I've been in Honolulu a month, and those fears have completely dissipated. Hawaii's rich, cultural life, combined with the warmth and friendliness of the people makes you forget about the fact you're living on a rather distant archipelago.
I must say the Aloha spirit really does exist here ... I understand why Doris Duke built her Shangri-La here...
Q: What is the most interesting piece, to you, at the estate?
A: I think I'm most drawn to the playhouse, which is the guesthouse modeled on the Chehel Sutun (40 Columns) which is a 17th century palace that Ms. Duke saw on her travels in Isfahan, Iran.
Numerous European and American travelers from the 17th century until today described in detail this very palace in their travel accounts. What they did in print, Doris did through art and architecture. It is a fascinating testimony to her impressions while abroad and to her creativity in response.
Q: What do you think of Doris Duke's aesthetic?
A: I think it was highly, highly original in certain respects, and in other respects, it corresponds to collecting and interpreting Islamic art during her time. She was unique in the way she brought together material from different regions, media and times, and assembled this collection against a Hawaiian landscape.
At the same time, her interest corresponds to certain patterns of American collecting of Islamic art during the 20th century. My hope is that her intellectual curiosity and her spirit will inspire those of us today to learn more about the Islamic world...
Do you think recent world events have created more interest in Islam and understanding Islam?
A: Yes, I think so, and my hope is that people will learn more about the Islamic world through art, literature, film and music. I'm confident that such an endeavor would offer a much more enriching experience, and an image that is much closer to the reality of the majority of Muslims than many of the images circulating in the media today.
Q: What plans do you have as curator for the estate? Will you take it in a new direction?
A: It's an extremely exciting time here.
There have been two recent appointments for senior staff at Shangri-La. Rob Saarnio has come aboard as associate director, and he brings a great deal of experience in historic preservation.
I came on board as curator starting at the end of November. Shangri-La did not previously have a full-time curator.
With these key positions filled, and the strength of an already impressive staff, we plan to embark on a year-long strategic planning process, guided by the exceptional leadership of Shangri-La's executive director, Deborah Pope. We're going to revisit and reassess the possibilities of Shangri-La as both a museum and center for scholarly and artistic activity.... I would like to have conferences here, and be involved in exhibitions, perhaps offer graduate workshops.
My hope is that local teaching institutions, especially the universities, will also see the possibilities of Shangri-La as a teaching collection.
I believe bridges could be built between Shangri-La and universities, and that we can also strengthen our links with other museums.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Doris Duke's guest house, known as the Playhouse, was modeled on the seventeenth-century Persian palace the Chehel Sutun (Forty Columns) built in Isfahan, Iran. The 75-foot saltwater pool and cascades are just two of the estate's water features.