Saudi art show dazzles despite snowstorm in Washington

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Updated 23 March 2018
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Saudi art show dazzles despite snowstorm in Washington

WASHINGTON: Three inches of snow fell on Wednesday, and the cherry blossoms shook with the weight. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for Washington to slow down — possibly even shut down — and enjoy a good snowstorm.
Keith Nahigian, one-time head of the Trump transition team, whose eponymous firm is escorting the new nonprofit Misk Arts Institute around town, had the awkward task of trying to explain to the delegation from Saudi Arabia that their well-laid plans for an evening art party at the Kennedy Center might go awry.
“It’s hard to explain that people here are afraid of the snow … they can shut down the government,” he said.
The delegation was a little confused, he reported. It snows in Saudi Arabia, but maybe not in the cities. And how can a government … shut down for a day? Kingdoms don’t. Can democracies?
As it turns out, no one needed to worry. Official Washington, at least the large part of it engaged in the Middle East, turned out in force, in snow boots, sipping mocktails as they jammed the art exhibit.
The Misk Arts Institute — an as yet amorphous but large new arts initiative supported by the Crown Prince — is launching a five-city tour, with stops in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston.
Saudi Arabia is the story of the week in Washington. They garnered some protests — giant security guards hauled small women in fuchsia who were protesting against the war in Yemen from the exhibit. On Wednesday evening, they drew a large panoply of well-to-do Middle East Institute members, professors, aid workers, business people and youngsters looking for their first step up on a career ladder that suddenly looks more promising now than it did under the previous administration, when Obama decided the best policy in the Middle East was as little as possible contact.
But there was substance beyond the Saudi story. Saudi Arabia, following in the path laid out by the Emirates with Art Dubai, plan to use high culture to establish their credentials in the world.
The Misk Arts Institute’s message: Art and innovation, especially by youth, are exploding in Saudi Arabia. The Misk Art Institute is likely to provide crucial support to many artists, including women who see the opportunity to make their narratives central as the arts grow in their country. “Now is the time to invest in driving schools in Saudi Arabia!” shouted one American woman over the crush.
The artwork in the popup display at the Kennedy Center, with work by 33 artists, included mural paintings by women artists from southern Saudi Arabia, commissioned by the Foundation, and Ahmad Angawi’s gaint ball of microphones, looking large and cutting edge under the low light.
On an evening when the other hot topic of conversation was whether to delete Facebook, that piece of art seemed less about Saudi Arabia and more about the world.


Motorsport, rock bands, tourists … welcome to the new Saudi Arabia

There was an explosion of joy at the podium when Antonio Felix da Costa lifted the winner’s trophy at the conclusion of the Formula E Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix on Saturday. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 16 December 2018
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Motorsport, rock bands, tourists … welcome to the new Saudi Arabia

  • Three-day event at Ad Diriyah reaches spectacular climax in an unprecedented spirit of openness

The driver with the winner’s trophy was Antonio Felix da Costa — but the real winners were Saudi Arabia itself, and more than 1,000 tourists visiting the country for the first time.

Da Costa, the Andretti Motorsport driver, won the Formula E Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix in front of thousands of race fans at a custom-built track in the historic district on the outskirts of Riyadh.

But in truth, the event was about much more than high-tech electric cars hurtling round a race track — thrilling though that was. The three-day festival of motorsport, culture and entertainment was Saudi Arabia’s chance to prove that it can put on a show to rival anything in the world, and which only two years ago would have been unthinkable.

The event was also the first to be linked to the Sharek electronic visa system, allowing foreigners other than pilgrims or business visitors to come to Saudi Arabia.

Jason, from the US, is spending a week in the country with his German wife, riding quad bikes in the desert and visiting heritage sites. “I’ve always wanted to come for many, many years ... I’m so happy to be here and that they’re letting us be here,” he said.

Aaron, 40, a software engineer, traveled from New York for two days. “Saudi Arabia has always been an exotic place ... and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to come here,” he said.

About 1,000 visitors used the Sharek visa, a fraction of what Saudi Arabia aims eventually to attract. 

“Hopefully we will learn from this and see what we need to do for the future, but I can tell you from now that there is a lot of demand,” said Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, vice chairman of the General Sports Authority.

His optimism was backed by Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund and a visitor to Ad Diriyah. “Such events will attract tourists and are a true celebration for young Saudis who desire a bright future,” he said.

“The vision of moderate Islam, promoted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is important both for the region and the entire world, and its realization needs to be appreciated, respected and supported.”

The event ended on Saturday night with a spectacular show by US band OneRepublic and the superstar DJ David Guetta. “Just when you think things can’t get better, they suddenly do,” said concertgoer Saleh Saud. “This is the new Saudi Arabia, and I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next.”