The Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design is housed in the former home of Doris Duke near Diamond Head just outside Honolulu, Hawaii. It is now owned and operated as a public museum of the arts and cultures of the Islamic world by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA). Guided tours depart from the Honolulu Museum of Art, which operates the tours in co-operation with DDFIA.
Construction of Shangri La took place from 1936 to 1938, after Doris Duke’s 1935 honeymoon which took her through the Islamic world. For nearly 60 years, Duke commissioned and collected artworks for the space, eventually forming a collection of over 4,000 objects. The structure was designed by Marion Sims Wyeth. An artistic reflection of the construction of Shangri La can be found in Kiana Davenport’s novel Song of the Exile.
The building was opened to the public as a museum, the Shangri La Museum for Islamic Art, Design & Culture, in 2002.
The history of Shangri La is the story of people, place and place-making. The interaction of the dramatic Hawaiian landscape, modernist architecture, Islamic art and the legacy of the founder continue to animate Shangri La today.
Independent, intelligent and adventurous, Doris Duke (1912–1993) was determined not to be defined by her wealth or to be confined by social expectations.
Doris Duke traveled widely, immersed herself in other cultures and pursued a wide range of interests including the performing arts, historic preservation, environmental conservation and the preservation of wildlife. She was also a major collector of Islamic art, assembling a collection of more than 2,500 pieces and exhibiting it throughout her Honolulu home Shangri La—a sustained effort of nearly 60 years.
Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.
Architects, Designers, & Artists
As Doris Duke (1912–93) wrote in a 1947 Town & Country article titled “My Honolulu Home,” Shangri La “…isn’t the product of any one person, but of a number of architects and decorators from all over the world, finally put together by me.”
Architect Marion Sims Wyeth and supervising architect H. Drewry Baker were the primary designers of the 4.9-acre property and its three buildings. Duke and her first husband James Cromwell were intricately involved throughout the design and construction process. Designers and artisans from India, Iran, Syria, Morocco and Hawaiʿi also created work that contributed to and helped to define Shangri La’s unique character. Throughout her life, Duke relied on local tradesmen and craftsmen to carry out the original construction, continuing repairs and renovations to the property.
The Hawaiian Community
Doris Duke and James Cromwell fell in love with Hawai’i’s natural beauty and multicultural environment in 1935 and determined to build a seasonal residence.
Arrived in Honolulu in August 1935 as the final stop on their honeymoon tour the Cromwells extended their island stay by four months, longer than they had lingered in any other place on their itinerary. Duke described the islands as “…one of the most beautiful places in the world. It has a marvelous climate all year round, and I love the ocean, and I like the people.”
The Shangri La Museum for Islamic Art, Design & Culture displays a wide-ranging collection of art, furnishings, and built-in architectural elements from Iran, Morocco, Turkey, Spain, Syria, Egypt, and India – among others. Gilt and painted ceilings from Morocco, vivid ceramics from Iran (including the only complete lusterware Ilkhanid mihrab in North America), painted wooden interiors from Syria, pierced metalwork and vibrant textiles from Spain to India (including a magnificent pair of shaped carpets, made for the Mughal emperor) are among the many highlights. Its multiple buildings on the campus also include The Playhouse (a reduced-scale version of the 17th century Chehel Sotoun in Esfahan, Iran, now used for public programs and artist residencies).
The outdoor landscaping has a number of gardens, including a formal Mughal garden inspired by the Shalimar Gardens, as well as terraced water features, a Hawaiian fishpond, tropical gardens and a waterfall, and fabulous vistas of the Pacific Ocean.
The DDFIA Collection
The Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art collection at Shangri La was assembled over a period of nearly 60 years by Doris Duke (1912–93).
The DDFIA collection of Islamic art is characterized by a number of distinct sub-collections.
In terms of media, ceramic arts constitute the largest component of the DDFIA collection. While both portable ceramic vessels and tilework are represented, tilework is the collection’s indisputable strength.
Late-Ottoman Syrian interiors and furnishings
The DDFIA collection of late-Ottoman Syrian art and architecture includes two interiors as well as associated furnishings and architectural elements displayed elsewhere.
Artwork produced during the Qajar period in Iran (1779–1924) —as well as the periods immediately preceding it, Afsharid (1736–96) and Zand (1750–94) —constitutes the largest dynastic corpus in the DDFIA collection.
Commissions and Recreations
One of the most intriguing and unparalleled components of the DDFIA collection is its corpus of large-scale architectural features custom-made for Shangri La in the 1930s by workshops in India, Morocco and Iran.
Textiles and Carpets
Doris Duke’s (1912–93) collecting of Islamic art was often informed by her desire to acquire works of art that could be displayed, and often used, throughout her private home.
Southeast Asia Collection
Numbering approximately 2,500 objects, the collection includes works of art from Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Central Asia, India and parts of Southeast Asia.
Launched in July 2012, Scholar Favorites presents highlights of the Islamic art collection preserved by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art in Honolulu.
Islamic Art Collection
Islamic art covers a wide range of artistic production, from ceramic pots and silk carpets to oil paintings and tiled mosques.
The museum also hosts two visual artists per year for onsite exhibitions, workshops, and/or lectures. Recently-featured artists have included Hayv Kahraman, Faig Ahmed, Bahia Shehab, and Reem Bassous.
Public tours and programs
Tours of Shangri La originate at the Honolulu Museum of Art, and tickets must be reserved well in advance. Individual access to the museum is not granted.
Tours last about two and a-half hours, with one and a-half hours onsite at Shangri La. Tours feature the public rooms of the museum, and portions of the grounds: including the Entry Courtyard with Bahia Shehab’s My People mural, the Mughal Garden, the covered lānai overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and views of the Playhouse/pool/water cascades.
The Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design has a rich calendar of public programs throughout the year, including educational activities, lectures, and performances by the artists in residence, including musicians (such as Alsarah and the Nubatones), dancers (such as Amirah Sackett), comedians (Tanzila ‘Taz’ Ahmed and Zahra Noorkbakhsh of Good Muslim Bad Muslim), and intellectuals (such as Dr. Lonnie Bunch).
The Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design is situated on a 4.9-acre (20,000 m2) oceanfront lot in the exclusive Black Point residential neighborhood near Diamond Head, Hawaii. All tours to Shangri La begin and end at the Honolulu Museum of Art, which occupies 3.2 acres (13,000 m2) near downtown Honolulu.
As the museum operates under the terms of a conditional use permit from the City and County of Honolulu, visitor access is restricted. Visitors are not permitted to drive or park on-site at Shangri La or in the surrounding residential neighborhood.