Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah at Kuwait National Museum
Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI) at Kuwait National Museum (KNM) was established in 1983 to transform the private collection of Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah and Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah into a comprehensive exhibition of art from the Islamic world. A team of specialists from different institutions participated in this transformation. Members of the team included Dr. Marilyn Jenkins from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dr. Michael Bates from the American Numismatics Society and Manuel Keene of The al-Sabah Collection.
The al-Sabah Collection consists of a wide range of important objects, which include books, manuscripts, ceramics, glass, metal, precious stones and jewelled objects, architectural ornaments, textiles and carpets, coins and scientific instruments. The objects on display represent the full chronological and geographic spread of the Islamic world.
On the 23rd of February 1983, two days before Kuwait’s National Day, the buildings of DAI were inaugurated at the Kuwait National Museum. Several thousand objects from The al-Sabah Collection were loaned to the government under the auspices of the Ministry of Information and were exhibited in that location.
During the events of the Iraqi invasion in 1990, the Kuwait National Museum was looted in its entirety by the occupying Iraqi forces. Amongst the stolen items were objects from The al-Sabah collection as well the entire DAI research library. The only things left in the museum were a pair of carved 14th century wooden doors from Fez, Morocco. The doors which proved difficult to remove were destroyed when the retreating Iraqi army set the museum ablaze in February of 1991.
In coordination with the United Nations following the liberation of Kuwait, the Iraqis were obligated to return the artefacts from the Kuwait National Museum including those of The al-Sabah Collection. Most of the objects were recovered, however many had been damaged— some destroyed beyond repair and more than 50 objects remain missing.
The summer of 2001 marked the beginning of the rehabilitation process of the previous buildings of DAI at the Kuwait National Museum— buildings three and four. With the support of the UNDP, a team of consultants were assigned the task to study and plan the restoration work needed on the buildings as well as the landscaping and exterior elevations. A new building nine is also to be constructed which will house a storage and conservation lab. These projects are a current work in progress.
In 2006, DAI moved its administrative offices and library into the newly restored Amricani Cultural Centre, the former American Mission Hospital building. While further work takes place at the Kuwait National Museum, many of DAI’s activities take place at the centre.