The Dar al Athar al Islamiyya, or DAI, is Kuwait’s principle cultural heritage institution, based on the Al Sabah collection of Islamic art. This collection rivals that of Qatar’s ruling family, which is the basis for the Museum of Islamic Arts in Doha. In fact the bidding contests between Sheikh Nasser al Sabah and Sheikh Hassan al Thani at international auctions have become legendary, and were one of the reasons for the overall increase of the value of Islamic art.

Sheikh Nasser, oldest son of the late Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Jaber, currently serving as the Minister of the Emir’s court (Al Diwan), started collecting Islamic art in 1975; he shared his passion with his wife Sheikha Hussah, co-owner of the collection. In 1983 the collection was institutionalized as the Dar al Athar al Islamiyya and brought to the newly constructed wing of the National Museum. Sheikha Hussah became the director. In 1990 the Museum was looted by Iraqi soldiers, who burnt the museum when retreating in 1991. Luckily many important pieces were on international loans; and most of the looted objects eventually found their way back to the collection. The museum building itself is still under reconstruction, and early 2012 seemed nowhere near completion – for reasons that are unclear.

While awaiting a final home, highlights of the Al Sabah collection can be seen throughout the world in temporary exhibitions; from the outset the collection was used for Kuwaiti and Arab cultural diplomacy. Part of this strategy is the publication of scholarly works about Islamic art, mainly drawing on objects from its own collection.

In Kuwait itself, the DAI organizes cultural events in its two locations: its recently renovated headquarters in the old American Mission Hospital, Amricani Cultural Center, and in Al Maidan Cultural Center. The events are planned as cultural seasons which run from September to early June every year. The programme, consisting of music, theatre, exhibitions, lectures and workshops, has been developing rapidly over the last few years and has without a doubt become one of the mainsprings of Kuwait’s cultural life. Download the current cultural season here.


Written by: RobertK Last modified: 22nd Nov 2012
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