Here‘s an interesting perspective on Doris Duke and her Shangri-La residential tribute to Islamic art, which I recently had the chance to visit. It’s by Sharon Littlefield, the Consulting Curator of Islamic Art for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation/Honolulu Academy of Arts.
While the American heiress Doris Duke (1912-93) succumbed to an elite desire to collect, display, and donate, her chosen field of Islamic art and architecture was at odds with the legitimacy her social circle sought in their collecting. Moreover, relocating such art to her private home in Hawaii effectively estranged her from all established patterns of art collecting. Likely, her motivation to both acquire Islamic art and create an Islamicate estate for its display was driven, in part, by the very need to dissociate herself from her peers and her inherited lifestyle. But, profoundly drawn to Islamic aesthetics, she continued to collect right up to her death. She did not simply reject her own culture, but actively embraced Islamic ones. Despite being intensely private, Duke decreed that her estate, baptized Shangri-La, should be opened to the public following her death. Scheduled to open in October 2002, Shangri-La stands as a significant Islamicate monument, a fact which has, and will likely continue, to perplex those who cross its threshold.
I managed to check my cynicism and class resentment at the door and came away thoroughly fascinated. It’s well worth a visit. The virtual tour is also first-rate.