Field of Flowers: Mughal Carpets and Treasures
The East-West Center Arts Program
and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art present:

Field of Flowers: Mughal Carpets and Treasures
Sept. 21-Dec. 31, 2008
East-West Center Gallery, Honolulu

Opening reception: Sunday, Sept. 21, 2 p.m.

In residence September 21-26:

Master carpet weaver Ayyoob Khan and third-generation carpet atelier owner Sanjay Kalra, both from Agra, India, home of the Taj Mahal.

In mid-seventeenth century Mughal India, the taste for naturalistic floral sprays reached an apogee of artistic expression. This aesthetic style dominated the arts of South Asia from the 17th century to the present, and has had an impact on even Western and Chinese aesthetic traditions. For many, the arts developed during the Mughal dynasty are synonymous with taste, luxury, and power.
In this exhibition, the taste for beautiful floral motifs is seen in a rare pair of large, unusually shaped Mughal carpets from the collection at Shangri La—the magnificent Honolulu estate of the late Doris Duke. Paired together, the carpets – which have rarely before been available for public viewing – form a bold field of flowers with an interior void wherein a person, most likely of royal stature, would have sat in splendor.

Co-curated by East-West Center Gallery Curator Michael Schuster and Shangri La Curator Sharon Littlefield, the exhibition will include a walkway over the carpets, enabling visitors to view their details from the vantage point a Mughal ruler might have enjoyed. Intricate works of art inspired by Mughal floral patterns, including metalwork, paintings, stonework and textiles, will also be displayed. Photographs and video will demonstrate the social and contemporary context of carpet making.

Special Events:
All in the EWC Gallery; admission free

Sunday September 21, 2:00-3:30 p.m.
Opening festivities, including reception, artist’s demonstration, and exhibition walk-through

Sunday October 19, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Arts Forum: “Restoration and Conservation of Duke Mughal Carpets”
by Ann Svenson Perlman, textile conservator, Doris Duke Shangri La Collection

Sunday November 9, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Illustrated Talk: “Seen Through a Screen: Mughal Art at Doris Duke’s Shangri La” by Sharon Littlefield, curator of the Doris Duke Shangri La Collection

Sunday December 14, 12:30-4:00 p.m.
Indian Feature Film: Jodhaa Akbar, “Bollywood” extravaganza filmed partially in Agra Fort and depicting the romance between a Hindu princess and the Mughal emperor, Akbar
About Mughal Carpets

In 1526, Babur, an emigrant prince from Central Asia, established the Mughal dynasty in South Asia. By 1600, the dynasty was both economically and politically prosperous, ruling a large geographic area divided today into Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Northern India. During their 330-year reign, the Mughals gained an international reputation for their wealth, tolerance, and intellectual and artistic pursuits. Their influence survives to the present in the word “mogul,” which denotes a lifestyle of power and luxury.

The Mughals had several capitals around their empire, to which their court traveled at various times of the year. In each capital, gardens were built from which they could rule and relax. Pavilions within the garden would be furnished with textiles such as hangings, spreads and carpets – textiles which in turn featured floral imagery to further enrich the setting. Further, carpets and textiles served as portable architecture that could be easily de-installed for travel as the Mughal court moved around its empire. Through floral imagery and flowers themselves, vibrant colors and robust patterns provided a beautiful courtly setting.

The Mughal rulers established ateliers (workshops) in the 16th century in what is now India and Pakistan. They brought carpet weavers from Central Asia to teach local weavers the designs and techniques of carpet weaving, and soon thereafter a unique indigenous style developed. Oriental rugs are still made today in Pakistan and India, and many of these carpets continue to emphasize motifs developed for the Mughal courts.

At one time, an atelier might have been under the actual domain of a ruler, but today family-run enterprises control the carpet manufacturing and distribution. Carpet production is a complex art involving many constituents. Because of the expense in time and materials, carpet weaving begins with the total design conceived in advance. Previously, the master weaver would keep the design in his head, giving instructions to his subordinates as the rug progressed. Today, designers take inspiration from prototypes, often looking at examples found in books with photographs of famous carpets found in museum collections.

Designers then transfer the design to graph paper, painting each tiny square to indicate which color thread is to be knotted. These detailed paintings are then sent to contracted village families with the appropriate dyed woolen yarns in order to construct the carpet. Usually a family keeps a working loom in the house or courtyard. Thus, several family members can work throughout the day on the carpet. Two people working on a six-foot-wide carpet for a day can knot and weave approximately an inch of the total pattern. The contracted family is paid incrementally by the amount of carpet completed.

About the Doris Duke carpets

The two 17th-century carpets from the Doris Duke Collection that are the focal point of this exhibition beautifully illustrate the Mughal floral aesthetic. Legend says they once graced the tomb of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan at the Taj Mahal. Over the centuries, they have passed through the hands of private collectors in India and the West before being purchased by Doris Duke for her Honolulu estate – Shangri La –in 1990. When Duke died in 1993, it was her intention that her collection of Islamic artifacts would become available to the wider public. What was once an exclusive pleasure of the elite is now available for the enjoyment of many.

In addition to being historically significant markers of an aesthetic tradition, the carpets stand alone as important works of art due to their unusual shape and pairing.  Each carpet has an arched interior with pointed ends. When paired, the carpets form a bold field of flowers with an interior void wherein a person, most likely of royal stature, could have sat in regal splendor,  surrounded by effervescent textiles, architecture and precious objects while ruling over a vast empire.

FOR MORE DETAILED INFORMATION on the aesthetics and practices of Mughal carpet making, download a pdf brochure at

NOTE ON IMAGES: Several low-resolution images are attached for visual reference. To download high-resolution press images, visit[email protected]/YB160A

To download an image, click on the “all sizes” button at the top left corner. (“Original” size is the biggest.)

Gallery info:

East-West Center Gallery
John A. Burns Hall, 1601 East-West Road
(corner Dole St. & East-West Rd.)
Gallery hours: Weekdays: 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Sundays Noon-4:00 p.m.
Closed Saturdays and holidays

For further information: 944-7584