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Shangri La enriches the understanding of the art and design of the Islamic cultures in new and inspiring ways through exhibitions, digital and educational initiatives, public programs and guided tours, and community partnerships.

About Shangri La

Shangri La is a museum for learning about the global cultures of Islamic art and design in new and inspiring ways. Built in 1937, Shangri La was inspired by American philanthropist Doris Duke’s (1912-1993) extensive travels throughout North Africa and Western, Central, South and Southeast Asia, and the landscapes of Hawai`i. Duke directed in her will that Shangri La be “available to scholars, students and others interested in the furtherance and preservation of Islamic art and make the premises open to the public.” In 2002, Shangri La opened as the only museum dedicated exclusively to Islamic art in the United States and is operated by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, one of the Doris Duke philanthropies.

History of Shangri La

Doris Duke and her new husband, James Cromwell, arrived in Honolulu in August 1935 as the final stop on their honeymoon tour; they soon extended their island stay by four months, longer than they had lingered in any other place on their itinerary. She described the islands as “…one of the most beautiful places in the world. It has a marvelous climate all year round, and I love the ocean, and I like the people.”  

Interpreting the Doris Duke Legacy

The only child of James Buchanan Duke, a founder of the American Tobacco Company and Duke Power, Doris Duke was a lifelong philanthropist. In her will, she directed that her legacy advance specific charitable causes. Today, this work is carried out by the Doris Duke philanthropies, supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The mission of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is to improve the quality of people’s lives through grants supporting the performing arts, environmental conservation, medical research and child well-being, and through preservation of the cultural and environmental legacy of Doris Duke’s properties. Shangri La is operated by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, one of the Doris Duke philanthropies. While Doris Duke’s interest in Islamic art was progressive and visionary, how Islamic art has been collected and presented remains a topic of ongoing discussion and debate. Shangri La’s approach to art reflects the shared commitment of the Doris Duke philanthropies to the values of diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice as ongoing, active engagements in funding areas, grantees, museums, centers, board and staff.

Duke befriended the Kahanamoku family, a prominent Native Hawaiian family who formed the core of Duke’s social circle for many years and introduced her to Hawaiian life. Finding herself captivated by the cultures she experienced during her honeymoon and enamored with Hawai‘i, Duke designed a new home in collaboration with architect Marion Sims Wyeth that would evoke the beauty and character of these cultures. This home would become Shangri La. For nearly 60 years, Duke commissioned and collected major elements representing the Islamic history, art and culture of Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Central Asia, India and parts of Southeast Asia.

In 1965, Duke added a codicil to her will calling for the creation of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art so Shangri La could become a public institution “to promote the study and understanding of Middle Eastern Art and Culture.” After Duke’s death in 1993, Shangri La opened to the public in 2002.


The mission of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) is to promote the study and understanding of Islamic arts and cultures.

Foundation Overview

In accordance with Doris Duke’s (1912-1993) will, DDFIA was created in 1998 to promote the study and understanding of Islamic arts and cultures. DDFIA’s activities include:

Shangri La is within the ‘ili (subdivision) of Kapahulu in the ahupua‘a (land division) of Waikiki, in the moku (district) of Kona, on the mokupuni (island) of O‘ahu, in the paeʻāina of Hawaiʻi. It is with mindfulness and gratitude that the museum acknowledges this `āina (sacred land) as an indigenous space whose kānaka`āina (original people), are today identified as kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiians). Shangri La further recognizes that her majesty Queen Liliʻuokalani yielded the Hawaiian Kingdom and these territories, under duress and protest, to the United States to avoid the bloodshed of her people; peaceful and inspiring acts of kānaka maoli protest, assertions of sovereignty, and practices of cultural healing and rising continue today.

Learn about the history of the collection.

About the Collection

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