In the 88 years since its founding, Saudi Arabia has not had an official cultural policy in the Western sense, no tourism unless you count the pilgrimages to Medina and Mecca as such, and very little cultural outreach other than the diffusion of Wahabism, the country’s ultra conservative version of Islam.
This has begun to change, however, and the reforming Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, whose most media-friendly revolution among many has been to allow women to drive, is making powerful statement of intent by founding an art institute in the conservative capital, Riyadh.
At a crowded press conference on 29 January in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, further details emerged of his philanthropic Misk Foundation, established as part of his 2030 Vision programme, and the aims and activities of its artistic arm, the Misk Art Institute. He has appointed as its director the well-known Saudi artist Ahmed Mater, an exhibition of whose work is currently at the Brooklyn Museum in New York (Mecca Journeys, until 8 April).
Within the Kingdom, the Misk Art Institute, which is aimed above all at the young, intends to become Saudi Arabia’s “leading platform for grassroots cultural production, diplomacy and exchange”, bringing focus and training to the art scene that has developed almost spontaneously over the past 15 years, stimulated by the internet, which has connected the young population (the median age in the Kingdom is 27) with the rest of the world.
Precisely because the population is so wired, an important part of the institute’s activities will be a programme to send young 10 artists this autumn to Silicon Valley and the Bay area to meet tech companies and artists. This is organised together with the Crossway Foundation, led by Englishman Stephen Stapleton, that works on building links between artists in the Middle East. Read more