Experience the Vibrant Islamic Art in This New Honolulu Museum Exhibit

Newly reinstalled gallery at the Honolulu Museum of Art presents Islamic art and design as a “truly global culture.”

Editors Note: Through our partnership with the Honolulu Museum of Art, HONOLULU Magazine publishes a monthly blog written by Lesa Griffith, the museum’s communications director and a talented Hawai‘i writer on arts, culture and food.


Redesigned Islamic art gallery

The redesigned, reinstalled Islamic Art Gallery at the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Photos: Honolulu Museum of Art


If it’s been a while since you visited the Islamic Art Gallery at the Honolulu Museum of Art, now’s the time to check it out: The entire space has been redesigned, and there’s a bunch of new art to see.


The project—done in collaboration with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and its museum, Shangri La—transformed a static space featuring classical Islamic art into a flexible space that includes an alcove of contemporary works by past participants of the Shangri La Artists in Residence program.


Islamic art gallery opening reception

Shangri La executive director Konrad Ng, HoMA Asian art curator Shawn Eichman, HoMA board chair Vi Loo, HoMA interim director Allison Wong, and Doris Duke Charitable Foundation COO Peter Simmons at the opening reception of the newly reinstalled Islamic Art Gallery.


“Art can challenge us. Art can empower us,” says Shangri La executive director Konrad Ng. “The Islamic Gallery now presents the breadth, depth and connection of Islamic art and design in a wonderfully open and fresh way. The gallery showcases works—many for the first time—from our respective collections and organizes them through themes and media instead of by region or country. This approach to exhibiting iconic objects of the Islamic world allows us to view Islamic art and design as a truly global culture.”


Asked to name his favorites, Ng points to the case of jewelry, and the work There is nothing like Him by American Islamic calligraphy artist Mohamed Zakariya.


“These works are simultaneously particular and universal—artistic interpretations of the cultural values of their time while aspiring for timelessness,” says Ng. “I like that.”


The gallery underwent a month of construction, with cases knocked out, partitions removed and new pale blue paint applied. “It is remarkable how the space has been transformed,” says Shawn Eichman, the museum’s curator of Asian art. “It is much more open and spacious, and provides a beautiful setting for the many new works from the collections of Shangri La and HoMA that will be on display.”

  Contemporary Islamic art

The reinstalled gallery includes an area for contemporary works by artists who have participated in Shangri La’s Artist in Residence program.


Now on view in the first rotation of contemporary art are works by Ayad Alkadhi, Walid Raad and Reem Bassous. “I am thrilled to have Memory for Forgetfulness by Reem Bassous as a centerpiece of the new installation, since it extends the relevance of the gallery to our local community here in Hawai‘i,” says Eichman. “Superb examples of historic tiles from Shangri La, one of the hallmarks of its collection, will greet visitors as they first enter the gallery, and this will echo the experience of wandering through the exquisite architectural setting of Shangri La, further reinforcing the connections between our two institutions.”


The gallery serves as an orientation for people going on tours of Shangri La. So, in addition to the new layout, the reinstalled gallery features an iPad loaded with Shangri La information, which visitors to the sister museum can absorb before they board the shuttle bus to the Islamic art museum.


Since he joined the museum in 2007, Eichman had wanted to reconfigure the gallery to tap into Shangri La’s Artist in Residence program. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s $100,000 donation to the museum followed the successful run of the 2015 exhibition Doris Duke’s Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape, and Islamic Art and made his wish come true. The museum dedicated half of the gift to the gallery makeover.


Ng says it’s important to show Islamic art as part of a larger historical context. “The Islamic art gallery showcases 77 essential objects from Shangri La’s rich collection, and, when paired with the superb collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art, we are able to tell a fantastic story about human creativity that crosses borders and cultures,” says Ng. “The reinstallation enables both museums to deepen the public’s understanding of the global culture of Islamic art and design.”



Lesa GriffithLesa Griffith is director of communications at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Born in Honolulu, one of her early seminal art experiences was at the Honolulu Museum of Art, when on a field trip her high school art history teacher pointed out that the ermine cape in Whistler’s Portrait of Lady Meux was not just a cape—it was visual signage leading viewers’ eyes through the painting.