How did a personal hobby grow into one of the most distinguished and internationally recognized collections of art from the Islamic world?

Between 1975 and 1983, Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah developed an impressive collection of more than 20,000 objects from the Islamic Civilization – including manuscripts, ceramics, glass, metal, jewelled objects, and textiles. In 1983, Sheikh Nasser and his wife Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah 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 new title Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI).

The al-Sabah Collection quickly gained worldwide appreciation and recognition, measuring up to older collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum and the Louvre.

The Collection remained in the Kuwait National Museum until August 1990, when Saddam Hussein’s regime invaded Kuwait. During the occupation, the museum was destroyed and many objects from the collection were either ruined or stolen and moved to Iraq. Some of the objects eventually returned to Kuwait, though many were severely damaged. Sheikha Hussah, DAI’s director general, was faced with the challenge of maintaining a museum-based organization that no longer had a museum. Focusing on DAI’s original mission, to share the history and culture of the Islamic world with the Kuwaiti public and other communities, Sheikha Hussah allowed DAI to grow into a much larger organization, and the annual Cultural Season was born.

The cultural season offers two programs: Monday night lectures feature internationally known scholars on art from the Islamic world and 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.

From the beginning, the al-Sabah Collection organized travelling exhibitions and loans to museums to share the wonders of the Islamic Civilization. Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah’s current ongoing exhibition is titled al-Fann: Art from the Islamic Civilization. This exhibition was organized as a response to an invitation from the Mayor of Milan, Mrs. Letizia Moratti. With the growing interest on the culture and art of the Islamic civilization, Al-Fann opened to the public in October 2010 at Palazzo Reale in Milan, Italy. The exhibition, consisting of about 350 objects, will travel from Milan to Vienna on March 21st 2011.

DAI is currently working on bringing the exhibition Treasury of the World to Kuwait this year. This exhibition focusing on jewelled objects from the time of the Great Mughals is the first of its kind; it 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 and the Louvre in Paris. The exhibition ended the tour on December 30th 2010 at the Islamic Arts Museum in Kuala Lumpur.

This will be the first time people in Kuwait will be able to view a collection of magnificently jewelled objects from Mughal India which has amazed many visitors and scholars from around the world.

If you are interested in art and culture, keep an eye out this spring for the surprises that DAI has planned for Kuwait.

To staying up-to-date on activities and more information on exhibitions visit DAI’s website, blog and Facebook page!

– Haya H. Alsharhan. Images: DAI

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