ASU, Kuwait’s royal family connect through art, culture

By

Margaret Coulombe

Sometimes a life pivots on a single decision, small and unintentional. In the case of Sheikha Hussah, change came in the form of a decorative vase that ignited a lifelong passion for preservation of the past.

H.E. Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah is the director general of Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah — the Kuwait Museum of Islamic Art that now holds more than 30,000 pieces of art collected from Spain to China and spanning the 1st to 13th centuries. She is also actively involved in architectural preservation in Bahrain, Syria and Egypt, and archeological excavations in the region.

al-Sabah comes to Arizona State University to talk about her journey of self-discovery as a collector and how art, scholarly exchange and research can connect diverse cultures and experiences. The lecture will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Nov. 4 on the Tempe campus in ASU’s Memorial Union, room 228. 

In addition to her talk, al-Sabah will also meet informally with students and ASU representatives from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Office of the University Provost and the ASU Art Museum.

The lecture is sponsored by the ASU’s Council for Arabic and Islamic Studies, the School of International Letters and Cultures and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and will be moderated by founding chair Souad T. Ali, an associate professor of Arabic literature, Middle Eastern and Islamic studies in the School of International Letters and Cultures.

“We are delighted to host Sheikha Hussah al-Sabah whose lecture’s theme highlights the importance of cross-cultural understanding, diversity, and global awareness as integral parts of council’s mission. The visit falls within other aspects of the mission including the expansion of human civilization and the promotion of scholarship and teaching in Arabic as well as other Middle Eastern languages and cultures,” Ali said.

ASU’s relationships in Kuwait received new depth in 2009-2010 when Ali received a Fulbright Scholar’s Award to study at the American University of Kuwait, a private liberal arts college. There, Ali taught, conducted research and lectured on Islam and secularism in support of rising ideas of separating religion and state, and modern perspectives on gender issues in Islam. She also conducted extensive ethnographic research for her forthcoming book “Kuwaiti Women in Leadership Positions,” which features a chapter about Sheikha Hussah. Ali returned as a visiting professor in 2015 and recently delivered an invited keynote lecture in Kuwait.

Ali’s visit led to the establishment in 2012 of an ASU study abroad program hosted at the American University of Kuwait. The program allows ASU students to explore Arabic and Islamic culture and literature, centuries-old traditions and modern-day culture. Most recently, Ali efforts to provide academic options to meet the growing interests of ASU students in the Middle East have ushered in a new major with a concentration in Arabic, as well as a minor and certificate in Arabic. 

The ASU Council for Arabic and Islamic Studies works to promote multiculturalism and better cross-cultural understanding, including study of languages, religion and the arts. Under Ali’s direction, the council also works to develop academic partnerships and cultural exchanges between ASU and Arab and Muslim communities and countries. 

“Art and literature are cultural tools that can establish greater human understanding. The more we study other’s literary arts, cultures, and civilizations, the better enabled we become to achieve understanding and to work toward world peace,” Ali said.

In addition to Al-Sabah’s talk, the council also sponsors ASU’s Arabic Film and Poetry Series. The last two events in the 2016 fall series include the film “Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait,”  which documents the experiences of ordinary citizens in Syria in the ongoing civil was through footage from thousands of clandestine videos (Nov. 10), and contemporary and modern Arabic poetry with faculty led scholarly discussion (Nov. 17).