EXHIBIT IN EXILE Most of Kuwaiti collection has been looted, sheika fears


Washington At a press conference yesterday to announce the U.S. tour of a major exhibit of Islamic art from Kuwait, the co-owner of the collection was overcome with emotion when speaking of the fate of family and friends following the Iraqi invasion.

"As I appear before you today . . . I do not know the whereabouts of many of my family members and my friends," said Sheika Hussah Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah.

The daughter of a former Emir of Kuwait was in Washington to announce that the American tour of an exhibit of works from a leading collection of Islamic art will take place on schedule. It is to open its American tour at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore Dec. 9.

Sheika Hussah and her husband, Sheik Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, are the owners of a collection of some 7,000 Islamic works of art covering more than a millennium beginning in the eighth century. Since 1983, the collection had been on public display at the Kuwait National Museum, where Sheika Hussah is director of the Museum of Islamic Art.

She confirmed press reports that the collection, with the exception of the 114 works in the scheduled exhibit and six more in another traveling exhibit, appears to have been carried off from the museum by Iraqi troops in late August. "We have reports that it has been looted by the Iraqis -- brazenly shipped to Baghdad in the light of day," her prepared statement said.

The objects to tour the United States left Kuwait before the August invasion for a pre-American exhibition at the Hermitage in Leningrad.

Expressing her concern for the people in Kuwait, she spoke of a situation "getting worse and worse day by day," including "rape, burning of homes, looting of shops."

A diminutive figure dressed in black and brown, with a soft voice and almost shy demeanor, the sheika, 40 and expecting her fifth child, was introduced by Ann Townsend, president of the the Trust for Museum Exhibitions (organizer of the American tour).

Sheika Hussah answered questions about the collection, which she said she and her husband have been amassing since 1975, but declined to place a monetary value on it. "We bought with money that which is more valuable than money," she said. "Sometimes whole collections were bought, and sometimes we would go to markets in New Delhi or Cairo and get a bargain."

Asked her reaction if Iraq were to withdraw from Kuwait but not return the things that they have taken, she replied, "Let them withdraw first."

The exhibit, "Islamic Art and Patronage: Selections From Kuwait," is scheduled to run through Feb. 17 at the Walters, then travel to Fort Worth, Texas; Atlanta; Richmond, Va.; and St. Louis. After that, the sheika said, it is expected to go to Canada and Paris.

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