Driving along the Gulf Road, you may have noticed the construction work taking place at Al Americani Cultural Centre, the old American Mission Hospital. Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah’s (DAI) main offices are located in one of the buildings. The second building will be opening this year as a museum. There are several surprises in the newly renovated Americani building, writes Haya H. Alsharhan. One that the Kuwaiti community has been patiently waiting for is the final stop for the internationally celebrated exhibition Treasury of the World: Jewelled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals. After 10 years of touring renowned museums around the world, Treasury of the World is finally returning to Kuwait to be revealed to the public for the first time in the Arab region in spring 2011.
“From 1983 until 1990, The al-Sabah Collection was available to the public at the Kuwait National Museum,” said AbdulKareem Al-Ghadban, DAI Director of Exhibitions and Educational Programs. “This year DAI will once again be able to present to the Kuwaiti public beautiful objects from the Islamic world. And the first exhibition that will amaze visitors will be Treasury of the World. The moment has finally arrived.”
Treasury of the World is the first exhibition of its kind, focusing on the jewelled treasures of the Mughal court. The exhibition contains more than 400 exquisite jewelled works of art demonstrating the artistic sophistication and technical finesse of Mughal craftsmen. The objects in this exhibition come from The al-Sabah Collection created by Sheikh Nassar Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah and his wife Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah, who is also the director general of Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah.
The Mughal Dynasty is the greatest, richest, and longest lasting Muslim dynasty, ruling India from the 16th to the 19th century. Their wealth enabled them to build enormous cities and monuments, such as the Taj Mahal built by Emperor Shah Jahan that displayed their power over a diverse population of Muslims, Hindus and Jains. Along with their magnificent monuments, the Mughal rulers are known for their treasures of precious stones and gems. The Indian subcontinent is the original home of the connoisseurship of precious stones and the Mughal Emperors were devoted to beauty, wealth, and personal adornment. Their clothes, bodies, and personal belongings were adorned with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and pearls. The al-Sabah collection is one of the most comprehensive and distinguished collections of Islamic art and its most unique set of holdings, recognised as the best in the world, is unquestionably this group of jewellery and jewelled objects from the Mughal Dynasty.
This exhibition was first opened to the public in 2001 at the British Museum in London. The tour continued on to 12 more venues in 8 countries; including the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Louvre in Paris, the Kremlin Museum in Moscow, and the Asian Civilization Museum in Singapore. The exhibition ended the tour on December 30th 2010 at the Islamic Arts Museum in Kuala Lumpur. Treasury of the World was such a record breaking success in so many venues, such as Russia where it received close to 700,000 visitors!
Before Treasury of the World, The al-Sabah Collection began as a private hobby and had escalated into one of the most distinguished collections of art from the Islamic world. In 1983, Sheikh Nasser and Sheikha Hussah decided to share their private collection and move it from their home into the Kuwait National Museum as a permanent loan to the Kuwaiti Government. The al-Sabah Collection was offered to the public under the title Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah and remained in the Kuwait National Museum until August 1990, when Saddam Hussein’s regime invaded Kuwait.
During the war, the museum was destroyed. Sheikha Hussah was faced with the challenge of maintaining a museum-based organization that no longer had a museum. DAI originated from the desire to share the history and culture of the Islamic world with the Kuwaiti public and other communities. Focusing on that mission, Sheikha Hussah allowed DAI to grow into a much larger organization, and the annual Cultural Season was born.
DAI is currently in its 16th Cultural Season which offers two programs: Monday night lectures feature internationally known scholars on the art and culture of the Islamic world. Upcoming lectures include “Fragments of a Lost Past or Evidence of a Connected History” by Stefan Weber and “Windows into Arabic and Persian Scientific Traditions” by Elaheh Kheirandish. Wednesday night “Forums” offer a meeting space where ideas are shared through DAI’s Music Circle, DAI’s Book Club, and lecturers from Kuwait’s community.
“As the country celebrates Kuwait’s 50th National Day and 20th anniversary of liberation, DAI will also be celebrating the opening of Treasury of the World. This is an opportunity for people in this region to get a chance to marvel at these treasures which have amazed many visitors and scholars from around the world,” concluded al-Ghadban.
First published in Men's Passion issue #28 February 2011