Shangri La’s collection was assembled over a period of nearly 60 years by Doris Duke (1912–1993). The first purchases were made in 1935 when Duke was 22, and the last major piece was acquired in 1992, a year before her death. Numbering approximately 4,500 objects and cultural resources, the collection includes works of art from Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Central Asia, India, and parts of Southeast Asia. The collection is particularly strong in the later centuries of production (c. 1600–1940) and in ceramics, wood, glass, and textiles.
Many of Duke’s early purchases served a functional purpose at Shangri La: tiles for ornamenting bare walls and carpets for covering the floors. During this same period, she also acquired some of her most important pieces, including the thirteenth-century lusterware mihrab (48.327) from Veramin, Iran, one of the masterpieces of the collection.
Furnishing Shangri La also led Duke to become a patron, commissioning new work on a grand scale from living artisans in India, Morocco, Iran, and Syria. This early period of collecting and patronage was especially influenced by a handful of international advisors and dealers: Ayoub Rabenou and Mary Crane (and by association, Arthur Upham Pope), Hagop Kevorkian, Georges Asfar and Jean Sarkis (of the firm Asfar & Sarkis), René Martin of S.A.L.A.M. René Martin, and Hassan Khan Monif. Notable sales, such as that of William Randolph Hearst’s collection in 1941, also significantly expanded the collection.
During the final decade of her collecting, Duke continued to acquire important works of art: the only known pair of shaped Mughal carpets (81.49, 81.50), a Qajar ceiling painting and qalyan (water pipe, 44.4a–b), a Seljuq lampstand (54.151a–b), a Pahlavi mosaic tile panel (48.42), an Ottoman tombak bowl (54.18), Ilkhanid tiles with deer and phoenixes (48.110), and yet another star tile (48.387) from the Imamzadeha Yahya in Veramin, Iran, to which her masterpiece luster mihrab also belonged. These later acquisitions continued long-standing interests and strengthened the collections.
In 1965, Duke added a codicil to her will calling for the creation of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (now identified under the Doris Duke Foundation) so Shangri La could become a public institution "to promote the study and understanding of Middle Eastern Art and Culture." Nearly a decade after her death, Shangri La opened to the public in 2002 and the contemporary collection has continued to grow. Artworks now include murals, paintings, and works on paper from award-winning contemporary artists such as Bahia Shehab, Reem Bassous, Hayv Kahraman, Kevork Mourad, and Ayad Alkhadi, among others. The continuing growth of this collection is an important part of Shangri La’s commitment to deepening the understanding of Islamic art, culture and design and essential conversations about artistic connections, global intersections and social issues.