Accepted Paper:

Salvator Saudi? MBS, Cultural Materiality, and Materialism  
Stephen Steinbeiser

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines recent exemplars of cultural materiality in Saudi Arabia and the impact that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's program of economic reform has had and continues to have on both the cultural landscape of the Kingdom and the actors shaping it.

Paper long abstract:

In an effort to save Saudi Arabia's economy, its reformist-minded Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), is marching the country inexorably from a petro-dominated economy to a post-oil one. As part of this effort, the powerful and austere religious establishment, arbiters of Islamic decorum in the public realm, have been brought to heel, and secular expressions of culture can flourish. Both the need for economic diversification and the curtailment of the dominance of religious authority has afforded an opening for individuals and organizations to explore artistic areas more freely and fully inside the Kingdom than at any other time in previous decades.

Private galleries are thriving with local artists. Public concerts have begun, and cinemas are on the horizon. The government itself is constructing new areas of entertainment and culture, including museums, as part of its Saudi Vision 2030. These venues will provide both economic opportunity and the chance for the government to burnish an updated, contemporary image of what it means to participate in Saudi society.

Such an image will undoubtedly be useful for the government as it seeks to attract increased outside investment and position itself as a regional hegemon. This paper asks two interconnected questions: can such cultural capital simply be purchased along with the acquisition of fine art, or constructed through government museums and entertainment cities? Or will it require more rooted individual efforts which themselves demand artistic license and creative freedom?

Panel P035
Art, Culture and Materiality in the Arabian Peninsula