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A Playhouse in Shangri La

The Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art's Artist Residency Programme

004 / 28 November 2012

Nestled between the slopes of Honolulu and Hawaii's famed Diamond Head, amidst the brilliant blues of the Pacific Ocean, sits Shangri La, the late American heiress, philanthropist and art collector Doris Duke's custom-designed sanctuary for Islamic art opened to the public in November 2002, nearly a decade after Duke's passing. Born in New York City, Duke was the only child of James Buchanan Duke, a founder of the American Tobacco Company and Duke Energy Company. An avid traveller deeply impressed by the Islamic cultures she encountered on her journeys, Duke was a major philanthropist and founder of numerous charitable foundations, the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA), one of three operating foundations supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, being one of them. The DDFIA actively maintains Shangri La, a residence and collection accessible to scholars, artists and the public, with the help of Building Bridges, a national grants programme supporting projects that increase the understanding of Muslim societies through the arts and media. Since 2004, the DDFIA has invited scholars and since 2005, artists, to participate in a residency program at Shangri La, enabling the creation of work that complements the collection whilst dually advancing the study and understanding of Islamic art and culture. Speaking with Shangri La Executive Director Deborah Pope and Program Manager Carol Khewhok, Isabella Ellaheh Hughes learns about the programme, upcoming exhibitions and who will be the next artist-in-residence.



Isabella Ellaheh Hughes: Shangri La, owned by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA), was created in Doris Duke's will to promote the study, understanding, and preservation of Islamic art and culture. Did Duke's will specify starting an artist residency program? If not, how did the idea come about?


Deborah Pope: The idea really evolved as we learned more about Shangri La and Duke's interests. She commissioned new work from traditional artisans in India, Morocco, Iran and Syria. She was also an enthusiastic supporter and patron of contemporary music and dance. Shangri La itself is an interesting juxtaposition of early twentieth century modernist architecture and traditional Islamic art. There's always this creative tension between the modern and the traditional, which gives Shangri La a particular kind of energy: a number of visual and performance artists who visited the site after we opened really responded to the place. All these factors pointed the way towards developing a residency program for contemporary artists.


IEH: During her lifetime, Ms. Duke was known for her collection of Islamic art. Did she also collect contemporary art?


DP: Per above, she commissioned new work from living artisans working in traditional manners. I am not aware of her collecting contemporary visual art.


IEH: Since the inception of Shangri La's artists-in-residence programme in 2005, you've hosted eight contemporary artists, filmmakers and poets: Mohamed Zakariya (2005), Shahzia Sikander (2008), Walid Raad (2009), Afruz Amighi (2010), Zakariya Amataya (2011), Emre Hüner (2011), Omar Mullick (2012) and Shezad Dawood (2012). How are your residents selected?


Carol Khewhok: The program is curated. Artists are selected for the residency based upon professional qualifications and achievements and how closely the artist's work compliments or potentially intersects with Shangri La's work and mission, with consideration given to the artist's future impact within his or her field. 


IEH: An integral component of your residency program is ensuring that each resident artist's work complements the collection while also advancing the study and understanding of Islamic art and culture. Does this mean that work produced by resident artists must directly respond to the Shangri La's collection and the building's architecture?


CK: We provide a number of resources to our resident artists including access to the house, collections, database of images, archival materials and our library of books on Islamic art and culture. Artists are encouraged to respond to pieces in the collection, the architecture and surrounding landscape but they are not restricted in any way as to what they produce. In most cases, the influence of the residency on the artist's work will not be evident until long after the residency has been completed. 


IEH: Can you please speak about the general structure of your residency programme, including its format? Where do artists stay, how long do residencies generally last and are there production facilities onsite or at the disposal of the artists?


CK: Artists are invited to stay for two to three weeks in accordance with their schedule and availability. They stay in the Playhouse, which is a guesthouse on the estate modelled after the 17th century Chihil Sutun palace in Isfahan, Iran. Quarters consist of a bedroom, bathroom and a modest kitchenette. There is a large central room in the Playhouse that can be used as a studio/workspace. Production facilities on site are limited but artists are provided with computer access as well as access to collections, collection images, archival records and the library. If special studio resources are needed, Shangri La attempts to match the artists up with community studio resources at the University of Hawaii and the Honolulu Museum School. An important part of the artist residency is the public programming component. Artists interact with the local community by presenting a public lecture or demonstration of their work, conducting studio visits with art students at the University of Hawaii and – when appropriate – presenting public performances or readings at venues outside of Shangri La.


IEH: How many artists per year does the foundation aim to host?


CK: Presently, Shangri La hosts two to three artists-in-residence a year. 


IEH: What has been the local reception in Honolulu to the talks, performances and workshops that complement the residency? 


CK: The local reception has been tremendous. Hawaii is unusual in that it is an isolated place with a very international focus. Local artists and scholars greatly appreciate opportunities to hear new voices and ideas and connect with counterparts from other parts of the world. The University of Hawaii art students benefit greatly when Shangri La's artists-in-residence conduct studio visits and advise them on their work and careers. The community at large has benefitted from other public outreach initiatives, such as poetry readings in public libraries and Islamic calligraphy workshop demonstrations at the Honolulu Museum School.


IEH: Does the work created by artists during their residency belong to the foundation at the end of the residency period? 


CK: No. There is no requirement that works produced as a result of the residency belong to the foundation as Shangri La does not actively collect artwork. We do ask resident artists to consider submitting work for future exhibitions planned by the foundation. 


IEH: Your current exhibition at New York's Museum of Arts and Design, Doris Duke's Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape and Islamic Art (to 17 February, 2013), will travel to the Norton Museum of Art (2 February - 15 July, 2013), the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University (29 August, 2013 - 5 January, 2014), the University of Michigan Museum of Art (25 January - 4 May, 2014), the Nevada Museum of Art (7 June  - 21 September, 2014), the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery (23 October  - 28 December, 2014), and in early 2015, the Honolulu Museum of Art. The exhibition displays pieces from Duke's collection alongside work by six former artists-in-residence: Mohamed Zakariya, Shahzia Sikander, Walid Raad, Afruz Amighi, Zakariya Amataya and Emre Hüner. Were the works included in the exhibition created during each artist's residency and/or as a response to their residency experience?


CK: Several of the works on view in Doris Duke's Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape and Islamic Art were created during the course of residencies. Emre Hüner's film was shot on site during his residency and edited after his return to Europe. Zakariya Amataya's poetry was created on-site. Shahzia Sikander's digital projections were conceived during her 2008 residency and created on-site in 2011. Mohamed Zakariya made sketches for one of his calligraphic pieces during his residency and completed both pieces several years later. Afruz Amighi and Walid Raad's pieces were conceptualized during their residencies and constructed later after the artists returned to their studios in New York. 


IEH: How were the artists chosen to be part of the exhibition? 


CK: In 2011, we invited all of Shangri La's former artists-in-residence up to 2011 to participate in the exhibition and all accepted.


IEH: What makes this residency program distinct amongst other artist residencies aimed towards artists addressing Islamic and/or Middle Eastern identity and culture? 


CK: The artist residency at Shangri La, with its blend of Islamic art and architecture housed in a stunning natural environment, is an experience not found anywhere else. The artist has an opportunity to disconnect from his or her regular environment, reflect and create in a peaceful setting and interact with Hawaii's unique mix of Asian and Pacific cultures. 


IEH: Can you share the names of your forthcoming residents? 


CK: We are delighted to announce that New York-based Iraqi painter Ayad Alkadhi will be joining us as an artist-in-residence in January 2013 followed by Indian choreographer Anita Vallabh in February 2013.


About the author

Isabella Ellaheh Hughes

Isabella Ellaheh Hughes is an independent curator and critic based between Dubai and Honolulu. She has curated exhibitions for a variety of museums and non-profit organizations in the US and UAE and is also a frequent public speaker on subjects pertaining to cultural diplomacy, the Middle Eastern art scene and contemporary art. Serving as the Dubai Editor for ArtAsiaPacific, she has also contributed to Frieze, Persianesque, Contemporary Practices and Brownbook. Specializing in contemporary art with an academic interest in the rise of transculture and focus on art from the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, Hughes has a BA in Art History from Boston University and an MA in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University.