Doris Duke Shangri La Islamic Art Collection

Doris Duke Shangri La Islamic Art Collection

January 14/15  – “Shangri La” named after the mythical land where no one grows old

I had to book this months in advance.  Last year I intended to visit Shangri-La but left it too late and could not get a ticket.  The tickets are only $25.00 and the tour went from 10:30 am – 1:00 pm

Why Islamic art? I am drawn to exquisite craftsmanship.  Putting radicalism, wars and differences aside,  I love art.   I think art is important to every religion, culture and person.  I wanted to see why this woman, Doris Duke, was so intrigued and so drawn to its beauty.

Now I know why.

It was my first exposure to the beauty and sophistication of  Islamic art.  The well-hidden mansion of Shangri-La sits quietly nestled down the side of a cliff on the far side of Diamond Head on the island of Oahu.  As visitors we had to be bused in.  It was a 15 minute ride and the bus showed a movie on Doris Duke and her life.  This home had a much different feel from the outside.  I think that this is pure class and shows that she was a very private person. However once you stood in front of the front door you could tell by the beautifully decorated door and its scripture that you were about to enter into a very special, sacred space.   The front door has detailed scripture from the Qur’an which is located in a small roundel and says in Hebrew “In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful.  The scripture above says ” Welcome to Paradise” (Qur’an 15:46).

The door leading to the Mughal Garden  is similar to the one leading into the main house and includes, among other verses, the same welcoming phrase, “Enter them in health, secure” (Qur’an 15:46).


The Front door



Once I walked through the massive carved front door, I  quickly felt the peacefulness inside.  Every last detail was thought out and placed in its spot for a reason.  Every thing seemed to be in its place for the sake of  seeing it as beautiful.  I could see that light played an important part in the planning of this room and its details and could see that this entry way was going to change with each hour of the light of the day. The back- lit stained glass cutouts that encircled the top of the room near the ceiling would eventually act as a filter through which to fill the room’s floor with a multitude of colour when the sun shone through them in the evening. As I looked around at its contents I could see that this room which looked out  through a massage black marble mali onto a center courtyard, was dressed with things that were loved and appreciated by Doris Duke.  It represented her travels from her honeymoon and more through the countries of Iran, Morocco, Turkey, Spain, Syria, Egypt and India.  All of her most loved countries were all represented by the treasures within its walls.  This entry room set the stage and the tone for the rest of the house and its contents.   The home held a very delicate balance of space and things.  I felt as though it was open and airy  but at the same time I felt surrounded by beautiful ‘things’.  It is chalk full of antiques that are exquisite.  The blown glass, illuminated manuscripts, inlaid metalwork, carpets and tile are some of the most beautiful examples of craftsmanship I have ever seen..

The workmanship is fine and detailed. This home has one of the nation’s largest private collections of Islamic art.    

My favourite piece was the gigantic Mihrab, created 1226-1353 by a family, which was purchased from a mosque in Iran
Mihrabs are traditionally used in Iran to point towards the direction of Kaaba in Mecca.  This shows a Muslim the direction to pray. (see for more information Mihrab)

Although Doris Duke loved Islamic art and culture of the middle east she was not a practicing Muslim, she simply loved the art, so in her home this Mihrab sits on a wall through a door way but it is not pointing to Mecca.  Its all about the art to her, and what looks best and where.



Mirhab (1226–1353) This piece was sought after by the New York Museum



The Syrian Room, a period room evoking late Ottoman affluent domestic architecture and associated furnishings










The Gardens


There is a lot of tile work – tile is everywhere on the floor, in the walls and it is beautiful. Some tiles are embedded with jade and semi-precious stones. The lamps were stunning, all metal or crystal.  They hung from the high ceilings and gently waved in the wind.

As you walk through the home you can see that she loved the middle eastern colours and wanted to be surrounded by things with meaning and beauty behind each piece.  Her attention to detail in this home was  incredible.  The ceilings were all hand-carved and painted.

You can see by the design of the home that she wanted privacy and seclusion.  You can also see that she loved and celebrated art.  As I walked through out her home I thought about what it would have been like here back in the 30’s on an evening as the sun was setting.

I thought about Doris, leisurely stretched out on her fluffy caramel coloured , L-shaped, thick corduroy sofa.  She’d have a cocktail in one hand, and she’d be dragging on a cigarette while watching her  40 foot full glass wall disappear into the basement of her home,  by the push of a button.  Now she’d sit and enjoy  her up to the outdoor garden and the crashing waves.  I feel that this would have been exactly what she would have done. It is hard to believe that this talented woman had such a vision to create this home at only 26 years old.

Today this magnificent collection and home is open to the public and funded by her organization

The day ended with the tour guide handing each of us a verse from the poet Rumi – One of the worlds best loved poets and one that Doris loved.

My poem read:

                                    ” The only lasting beauty is the beauty from the Heart” Rumi


For more info on Doris Duke’s life click here Shangri-La