Fabbri, Roberto. "A Museum without Walls: Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah’s Cultural Diplomacy." In International Journal of Islamic Architecture, Volume 7, Number 2 (pp. 285-303) , edited by Yuka Kadoi and Mohammad Gharipour, Bristol: Intellect, 2018.
For almost two decades, Gulf sheikhdoms have consolidated their political mandate and legacy through large acquisition programmes of artworks and through building world-class museums. The aim of these policies is to foster a sense of national collective identity internally, while promoting the trustworthy profile of a fully advanced society to the rest of the world. While this seems to be the regional trend, this article investigates the anomaly of Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI), a Kuwaiti cultural institution predating most of the museums in the Gulf. I argue that the DAI offers an alternative narrative that focuses on art as a diplomatic agent to explain Islamic civilization in broad terms, as opposed to being limited to one country’s national discourse. In 1991, as a consequence of the first Gulf War, DAI’s building was burned down. This unusual condition of being a ‘museum without walls’, regrettably protracted for many years, transformed DAI into a fluid entity showcasing the depth of Islamic civilization locally and internationally through its broad collection. DAI’s primary tool of cultural diplomacy was, and still is, its travelling exhibitions. This article explores their museographical aspects, surrounding context, and subsequent reception.
Keywords: Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah; Islamic art collections; Islamic art exhibitions; Kuwait museums; al-Sabah Collection; cultural diplomacy