Dec. 10, 2015

HE Sheikha Hussah Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah


HE Sheikha Hussah Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah

Director General, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI)

"The primary focus of all our education programs is cultural awareness."


HE Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah is the co-owner of the al-Sabah Collection and Director General of Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI). She has lectured on topics related to Islamic art and culture at universities and cultural institutions in the Middle East, Europe, and the US and has contributed to publications with a similar interest. She is actively involved in architectural preservation, working to ensure that traditional buildings in Bahrain, Syria, and Egypt are protected and restored to the original design. She has also been involved in archaeological excavations in the region, both as a field worker and a patron.

Most GCC nations face the same challenge of balancing cultural heritage with rapid globalization. What do you believe are the foundations of Kuwaiti culture, both historically and today?

Families have traditionally been the focus of Kuwaiti culture and that remains the case today. Multi-generational families share homes, celebrations, and the responsibility to continue Kuwait's history, traditions, and stories. What is interesting today is the growing role of grandparents outside the home. It is not unusual for grandparents to bring their grandchildren to participate in DAI cultural and educational programs held during working hours. This is an example of how Kuwaitis are adapting to fast-paced modernity without sacrificing the important role of the family or social and cultural heritage.

How do you envision DAI building on its reputation of weaving education, enlightenment, and entertainment into the fabric of Kuwaiti cultural life?

The DAI benefits from three key resources that allow us to deliver programs and merge education, enlightenment, and entertainment. We have the objects in the al-Sabah Collection, enthusiastic staff, and facilities. The objects in the al-Sabah Collection are tremendous tools for carrying out our vision. This is true for objects on loan to various museums, those included in DAI travelling exhibitions, and those on display in Kuwait. Objects in The al-Sabah Collection are or have been exhibited in leading cultural institutions around the world, including the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the British Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Louvre in Paris. Three DAI exhibitions, Islamic Art and Patronage: Treasures from Kuwait, Treasury of the World: Jeweled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals, and al-Fann: Art from the Islamic Civilization, have literally travelled the world through showings in five of the seven continents. In addition, at any given moment hundreds of objects from the collection are on loan to prestigious museums in the US, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Here in Kuwait, the objects are exhibited in an historic building, which is open for free to the public. They offer inspiration to our staff and our audience as the objects are tangible examples of media, methods, and specialist techniques used by the artisans of the Islamic world since the advent of the religion. More important, the objects provide the threads of our story, which can be woven together by historians to expand our knowledge of the life and culture of the region, as well as by young children, who use their imagination to create fantastic tales grounded in an object or exhibition. Because of the commitment of everyone working with DAI, from the curator to our wonderful volunteers, we are able to create and deliver programs for individuals from the age of 18 months to 100 and older. Our cultural season includes lectures, concerts, films, workshops, children's activities, high school internships, and four docent recruitment and training sessions, none of which would be possible without a team that works hard to serve the community by bringing all these programs to fruition. While we are eagerly working toward the completion of the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah at the Kuwait National Museum, we are using both the Amricani Cultural Centre (ACC) and the Yarmouk Cultural Centre (YCC) as resources for exhibitions, education programs, and cultural interaction. ACC includes both exhibitions of objects from The al-Sabah Collection and visiting exhibitions. Museum-based education programs are held there, as are special events throughout the season. YCC, our newest facility, is already busy with lectures, films, workshops, and concerts. Children's programs are held there two days a week, and the calendar is increasingly full of special events. In addition, the DAI library, currently housed in three different locations, will be integrated into one comprehensive library in space being developed specifically for that purpose in the YCC. Fieldwork is also an important aspect of DAI's program. The DAI has been actively involved in multi-national archaeological excavations in the Islamic world. This direct participation gives the organization the chance to share historic discoveries with our audience based on personal experience. It also supports further studies of the region's history and publications related to the findings.

Education is one of the primary components of DAI's mission. What is the aim of the new children's library, and what are some other leading educational programs that you are focused on in Kuwait?

The primary focus of all our education programs is cultural awareness, although it takes various forms depending on the audience. DAI programs strive to give participants the information and experiences they need to truly be a part of an increasingly global civilization. In addition to attending the evening lectures, educational opportunities that cannot be underestimated, and other cultural season events, adults completing the docent training course and working as a docent have an opportunity to be intimately involved in nearly all aspects of the DAI. They host guests in the museums, participate in special lectures and training sessions, and generally support the organization as needed. In effect, the docents are students and teachers, constantly learning more about the arts and culture of the region and sharing their knowledge with others. The children's libraries, which will open in both the ACC and YCC in January 2016, and all of the children's programs, are based on the “Four Cs" of collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking, which are built into activities designed to promote cultural understanding and awareness. These programs are for children from 18 months through high school and, because of the multi-national backgrounds of the participants and the incorporation of the Four Cs in the programming, the children expand their knowledge not just of Islamic art and culture, but also the diverse arts and cultures of their classmates.

The DAI launched its 21st Annual Cultural Season in September 2015. What growth have you seen in the DAI's Cultural Season over the years, and what are the main objectives and highlights of the 21st season?

The primary objective of the Cultural Season programming has not changed since our first cultural season launched more than 20 years ago. Our purpose, then and now, is to provide individuals of all ages opportunities to discover more about the art and culture that surrounds them. What has changed is the volume and diversity of the participants and the activities included in our cultural seasons. This year's program includes 32 lectures, 16 classic films, 33 concerts, two theatrical weekends, eight Family Days, and five exhibitions. There will also be at least three book launches, two festivals, 124 children's education opportunities, five training sessions for volunteer docents, and many extra events that will be added during the season. There are always many surprises in our lectures and events, so predicting the highlights in advance is a guessing game. Highlights, like beauty, are in the eyes of the beholder. For some it will be a particular performance, for others a lecture, and for others an exhibition or children's program. This is one of the keys to our success.