Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom

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Good afternoon my name is John Voll and here at the Alwaleed Center for Muslim Christian

understanding and I'm very glad to welcome back what we've been saying

meaning old-timer now yeah indeed someone who has been in and out of

Georgetown over the years is currently on the faculty of Middle Tennessee State

University has done research and work throughout the Islamic world from

Malaysia to the Middle East to working on Muslims in America and for purposes

of today he is on today's presentation he is the author of a newly published

book changing Saudi Arabia our culture and society in the kingdom and the

primary focus in this sense is the art and culture and society and that means

it's not necessarily political it's not necessarily what the talking heads on on

television talk about all the time and it's not I want to take just a minute to

put the importance of what Sean is doing with the development of art in an art

community and art movements in Saudi Arabia the importance of what sean has

been doing is reflected in kind of the history part of Orientalism that people

don't the dead words I didn't pay attention to and that is Western

attitudes toward what gets called Islamic art and I went through my old

files and found my file in the mid-1970s the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened

what is really the large one of the law just exhibits of quote Islamic art in

the world and there was a review in The New York Times to kind of fit the

stereotype that I just want to sort of share with you for a minute and it

mm-hmm it begins an immense bath of exquisite

visual sensation sometimes a little stunning in its swift shift of scale and

sometimes a little soporific and its endlessly intricate decorative

elaborations now awaits the visitor in the new galleries of the Islamic art at

the Metropolitan Museum and so on then it varied in attitude you know

notwithstanding its obvious delights which shall be a long time assimilating

this latest Metropolitan museums within a museum not only because of its

enormous size but because for those of us who seek in art something besides a

bath of pleasurable sensation so much of what it houses is frankly quite frankly

so alien to the expectations and experience some Western sensibility

there is first of all the preponderance and thus the problem of what is known as

the decorative arts in this installation if you search for Islamic art googling

or whatever basically still this is now the 1970s is almost half a century ago

it is still treated Islamic art is still treated as decorative arts colorful

overwhelming and dog rather than looking at what people are doing and I can vouch

my on my own sake in the early 1970s my

wife and I lived in Beirut for a year on sabbatical and as I listened to and read

what Sean has been doing Riyadh of the twenty second decade of the 21st century

sounds a lot like the art community in Beirut in the early 70s trying to break

out of being quote decorative art into whatever one is going to be calling hard

right and so I welcome Sean and he will explain it all to us and but not quite

all because then you shouldn't get the book as well and there are a few copies

of the book that you want to say what they should do if they're if you're

interested in purchasing the conduct today they can be purchased for $35

unfortunately we know they accept cash if we don't have cash they can let you

know how to purchase it yes and this is my wife Carrie Foley who was kind enough

to join me in Saudi Arabia on when I did my research and I cannot thank her

enough for the support that she's provided me over the years also

traveling with me in many parts of the world to be my research and I've I can

note earlier this classroom has in this room has specific significance to me

this was the first class that I took on with Dr. Voll Islam in Africa mm-hmm

many years ago at Georgetown I noted that here the chalk that I guess

suggests a different error of classroom as well but again I very much

appreciated that I'm you taking the time to join me today and your busy schedules

and everyone here I know the week has been um has been thrown up in the air a

bit for many of us because of the winter storm that took place on Wednesday I

think you to take the time out of your busy schedules to come and to listen to

what I have to say this is a course in introduction to that as well I'd also

make a special note that Dave Ottawa who has kind enough to join me both

yesterday when I gave a talk and again today so thank you for taking the time

to join me not once but twice as well on May 19th

2017 Air Force One arrived in Riyadh Saudi Arabian City the doctor ball just

mentioned marking the start of President Donald Trump's first overseas

visit as US president the three-day visit featured a series of bilateral and

multilateral meetings on strategic issues along with events highlighting

cultural and social ties one of the most important of the cultural events Saudi

contemporary art was held at the diwan almalik the site of Trump's talks with

King Salman and other world leaders on the second day of the trip the Saudi

King accompanied the president on an official tour of the exhibit which

display the work of 40 Saudi artists television cameras carefully recorded

the US president and his wife as you can see here Melania speaking with various

male and female artists Saudi journalists specifically focused on the

picture on the right that you see there a president Donald Trump congratulating

Abdullah of maan one of the young artists featured in the show actuated

the enthusiastic response of Saudi social media the Trump's visit to the

exhibit King Salman publicly stressed the importance of a culture and art in

Saudi Arabia and his personal support for Saudi artists in America we

sometimes think take artists formally supported by the state to being lesser

artists with the kinks but the Saudi King is not the only person to support

these artists they have wide press widespread popular support and have

earned the backing of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or as many of you

know MBS and even the late Jamal Khashoggi the latter not only brought

together a key group of artists but also has adult children who are now part of

the artistic movement for many scholars of the kingdom as dr. volp of course

brought up the beginning and even some Arabs the presence of a vibrant arts

movement in the country comes as a surprise in their view most Saudis are

intolerant highly religious people who have sought to preserve their society's

cultural and humbly Islamic traditions against modern art or any other

manifestation of the temporary world these types of views

reinforce the vision of the country that is entirely devoid of art a few that was

once voiced by TE Lawrence when he observed there was so little art that

one could say Arab art did not exist during World War one one hears even a

similar perspective among some Saudis his vision is crept in for example

writing in the daily Saudi news fellow al sharq in 2013 dr. Abu Salam al-Wayel

declared if we can say that there's a Saudi culture and it has value in

interesting phrasing then we can say with high confidence that the contempt

for the Arts lies at the heart of its values remarkable thing to say about

this culture even Hasan Minhaj has recently well regarded segments on the

murder of Jamal Khashoggi and on his Netflix show Patriot Act I'm sure some of

you in the room know of that overlooks the artistic movement they all all the

shows did focusing instead on MBS and the kingdom senior political leadership

by contrast my speech today seeks to broaden our discussion of Saudi artists

and their country which is far too often defined by non Saudis through the words

of its national leaders while such official pronouncements are of course

essential to understanding global diplomacy they are not as useful for

analyzing other elements in the kingdom in these contexts Saudi artists the

subject of my book again changing Saudi Arabia art culture and society in the

kingdom you can get a couple of copies in the back if you want in this context

and they're essential these artists that I discuss in this book

why for they permit us to transcend the dialectical structures that exist in

most most Western discussions of Saudi Arabia frameworks that Edward Said

wisely warned us to avoid in his work Orientalism as I learned during my

extensive and country and online research for my book the Saudi created

is in touch with a powerful national force the deep consciousness of the

country's masses who now live in the country and must deal on a day-to-day

basis with the issues that emerge from living in a society and dealing with

both its diversity and its contradictory elements what is their country

what Saudi emerging of Saudi Arabia emerges from their perspectives that

frames what I'm looking at finally the artists who I talked about

today do not represent the policies of the state they are not dogmatic rather

they engage their audience in a surprisingly open dialogue and which

varies and often contradictory elements are a vehement discussion and as we

think about this for a moment I want to point out to you this picture that you

see here this was on the Saudi internet on Saudi social media over the last

couple of weeks um it does its artists is unknown it's an anonymous artist with

that as well and you can see the various forces at work just in this one work of

art we can see of course in the floor around here Edward Munch screen I'm

sure many of you have heard of this have seen this painting before

and the famous work almost emblematic of modernity of this idea the

person screaming and dealing with the world but also looks like someone doing

what anyone thought what this is like this Oh

leading the yeah doing what the call to prayers on yeah that that same thing

it's a remarkable moment um what was in college when I was in graduate school

here one of the people I work with

um pointed that out she actually had a image of that in her office and the

sort of a remarkable moment Liz Keppler mention that when I was there I always

think of that so again this is certain prototypical Western modernity you see

right there you get this back with the pointer for a

moment this is it Western modernity but that Western modernity is within a

picture with in a clearly mosque islamic setting you seemingly have contradictory

forces back and forth in the same place my

first note at the bottom here may be hard to see see the Quran with the

Quranic stand right there as well so in there the person leading the prayer in

this context you can see this well how do these two forces interact how do many

of those people again I'm sure some of you know many Saudis have studied the

United States how do they reconcile these different forces in their lives

together it's just a taste of what we'll be talking about today okay at the turn

of the 21st century and I should note everyone's following me so far yes we're

good all right always got to ask the capital Asir and this is a southern

province in southern Saudi Arabia's as I talked about yesterday about

southern Saudi Arabia this is this area down here multiple provinces

a Saudi province Aesir it's located right down here near the border with Yemen

business and government interests began to seek new ways to diminish the

influence of what they saw as religiously conservative forces that

dominate the country since 1979 meetings with officials of the British and

American educated scholar Prince Khalid al-Feisel the governor of Asir

voiced this belief that there was an urgent need to both educate and brought

in the world view of Saudis especially those living in the south the events of

September 11 2001 I'm sent a shock wave why for the 15 of the Bombers were from

the sound from a [Arabic] was one in Asir next to Abha and also two

from jizan so there's four from down here and this came as an enormous shock

because most of the members of al Qaeda from that point had been from Jeddah

Riyadh Dammam this area of the country produced many of the bombers and the

sent a message on indeed many people in sending government it's seen

the more loyal part of the country and not one that would necessarily produce

Bombers to address this problem the prince created new cultural

institutions in Asir including as you can see here the Al-Meftaha arts village a

vast complex anapa that provided studio space to the community there five young

Saudi male professionals with no training in art you can see these guys

here here they are meeting um or introduced and were introduced

remarkably by Jamal khashoggi who's both a prominent supporter of the Al-Meftaha

arts village and the editor of al-Woton on a Saudi newspaper based in Abha and also

prompt sponsored by Prince Khalid over time the five young men formed a

Majlis you can see here this is a group sitting group you can see there

they are using the hookah the different types of things though they are spending

a significant amount of time where they held a group discussion where they

talked about everything art culture the influence of the media and the power of

images to shape opinion in the world using the internet which had just been

introduced in the kingdom only a few years earlier these young men gather as

many articles and books about art sometimes taking long times to download

them from slow internet speeds as they could and share that among themselves

and talked about art in these settings out of these discussions there emerged a

new worldview for creating art which synthesized art from home and abroad

explore cultural and social issues drew on the online world and create a common

social space rather than utilizing the Western framework and what your artist

works in a studio on his or her own for any art as God created the world they

looked at the creation of culture and of art in particular as a process it

involves many people beginning with this small group right and exploring it out

to the larger society will also set the work of this new generation of Saudi

artists apart was this exoteric nature in other words they did not define

assign meaning or truth to their art our art rather they

left that up to the audience or more broadly to Saudi society at large

they're already competing from the beginning think about how their work is

going to be understood by others as one of the artists of the Gharem has

said he and his colleagues were not picking sides instead they were trying

to be a mirror to society but did that not mean that the artist did not want

that mirror to serve a greater good to inspire reaction and change sometimes

when you become a mirror as an artist you can save these tweeting this on

Twitter sometimes when you become an artist as a mirror and they show you who

society who they are they get upset and there's this clear desire to bring the

reaction out to this we're mirroring we'll show you what's going on and you can see

this type of thing this type of thought process and one of Mater's pieces this

is called the evolution of man you can see here it begins as a gas tank and

what is it emerge into you can see a man what does he have here anyone see this

here what is that who is that that's a pistol you can see that

image why would Mater come up with this Mater was unique artists most the

people who were involved in this movement had no prior training as

artists he was actually a doctor who was an emergency room physician who saw

thousands of stands like the thousands of machine things like this it's a pad

that image you can see that in that context indeed as an offensive artists

he imagined himself not as an artist but almost as an artist merged with the

doctor whose role in societies and artists was to kin to that of a doctor

providing a diagnosis working on society a half you can see that in his work by

taking that approach the artist invited further discussion about the real

meaning or means of those work those discussions effectively extended to the

process of creating art and culture beyond the group so that society can

have a saying creating culture and be invested in it over time this process

transformed the five artists and those who follow them allowing them to adopt a

role akin to Antonio Gramsci's

famous concept of organic

intellectuals namely individuals who through the language of culture express

the experiences of their society in a ways that could not be easily replicated

by academia business or the media ambiguity had an important

for these artists for it offer them a mechanism to explore sensitive

cultural political and social topics while still claiming to be a political

and again you can see that very clearly here right is he talking about gas is he

talking about something else but meaning you could do you could infer a meaning

here but again he's not telling you what it is he's allowing you to come up with

that furthermore the artist treated the

conservative social norms of their society which may need us in the West

assumed or intended in the art reason you can't produce art in a system that

does not have freedom as we define it as a key source of inspiration transforming

what we would see as a negative into a positive

as Ahmed Mater the person who created this piece said it is more interesting

to be an artist surrounded by challenges like ours then

to be an artist surrounded by too much choice an unrestricted opportunity again

he prefers to be in the setting where he has more restrictions which allows them

to force them to think how do I talk about the oil or other things in its

reflection in Saudi society how do I create this and make it work in this

setting how do I get the reaction that I want An essential moment for Mater and

his colleagues was Gharem's decision in 2008 to listen to others in defeating

in a meeting of the photographic collage that you see here Sirat the

collage the collage displays of ruins of a modern bridge which have been

devastated by a flash flood in 1980 a considerable loss of life such such

collapses were all too common in Saudi Arabia at the time and later were a

major issue of public debate after the catastrophic floods in Jeddah in 2009

sure some room have heard of this Gharem further

added to the power of the piece by showing the bridge heading off into what

the abyss right you can see that going up there and also painting the word Sirat

up you can see multiple things he also adds red here and different colors as

well now of course Sirat as I'm sure many you

know means a road like path but it'll also convict to what the other side and as I'm

sure all of you know many of you know the word is great religious significance

for Saudis because it's a part of the sort of the [Arabic] the opening words

of the Qur'an again guide us to the straight paths these are all operating and

religious secular all kinds of things in this concept I should add by the way the

company that built this was bin Laden construction group just adding to the

level oh yeah just adding you thinking this bridge now only weeks before the

start of the first exhibit of modern Saudi artisan it was a big deal

a group of Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia protested that Gharem's piece gave

viewers a license to walk on the words of Islam this of course was not a

meaning the Gharem intended but asserting his role as a modern artist

whom he defined the meaning of so work was perilous for risk launching a debate

in which modern Saudi art might be labeled un-Islamic for promoting the

notion of artist as God consequently Gharem

agreed to provide the show an entirely new piece you can see here a giant

rubber stamp a model on the official ones he frequently used to mark his

paperwork and at that time Gharem was dominant artists it was also a major

he was also an official an officer in the Saudi army and you can see here it

has a series of things it says have a bit of commitment you can see here Gharem

right and again remember this is an official stamp stamping down what does

that mean um in that context as well thanks to Gharem's decision to remove

Sirat the 2008 show was a success helping to lay the foundation for the

future of Arts in the kingdom and removing

all doubt about whether the movement was organically linked to Saudi society

there's a powerful decision and in fact for Saudi artists many years later you

hear them talking about this being an inspirational moment saying look this is

us defining what our moment is um it should be noted that later God will use

that word surah you actually use the circle popped out in another piece also

called Capitol dome sort of almost reflecting in that as well that show the

one in 2008 help to help to attract artists throughout the kingdoms the

movement that had been born regionally in Abha two artists of worthier note

where they help to bring new technology into the Saudi artistic community

technology that would allow Saudi artists to communicate directly with the

masses for the first time and again by this point 2008 2009 we've moved from an

error of dial-up modems to something more with cell phones and also with

online media and more importantly social media that's gonna keep at what happens

street artists Al-Abdali you can see here being famed

in the kingdom by using social media to post graffiti pictures that featured a

road sign into Mecca you can see there right in which she replaced a Kaaba by a

giant group of half up buildings again this is playing on multiple images

including massive construction that was taking place at the time in Kaaba near

the Kaaba in Mecca that had been a significant issue within the kingdom and

the broader Islamic world she sees social media as a vehicle this is

important to start a discourse between people telling CNN in 2013 I didn't want

it to be a beautiful artwork I wanted to create debate people took photos of my

work and share them on Facebook and Twitter

and you can see what they're doing with social media they're transforming

initially which had been you know certain majlis a group of people into

only much larger discussion effectively turning Twitter into a form

of a national Majlis this is something that they'll be doing over a much larger

period of time by contrast [Arabic] known

widely as Shaweesh went one step further by turning to social media to publicize

and get positive and negative feedback on his work just as one might do again

in a majlis but that would be impossible to do in

the streets through this process of online criticism Shaweesh has created

striking pieces I can you can see this here this is one of my favorite is

called Darth of Arabia you can see there as well

where he added as you can see here Darth Vader to a picture of Emir

Faisal of course visiting the Versailles Paris Peace Conference in 1919 the

conference which determined the boundaries of modern Middle East

symbolizes for many Arabs the nefarious role of Western imperialism in the

region and it should be noted he's also implicitly doing something else there's

been a break ride early between this family that now rules Jordan and of

course the family of Saudi Arabia as well so there's implicitly something as

well it should be noted that one of [Arabic] other pictures where he had

actually the Emir Faisal at that time um signing the United Nations Charter with

Yoda next to him actually got into a Saudi textbook a couple of years ago as

well this sort of shows he's flowing in and beginning a great controversy as

well okay another important artist this generation

is Alneami she's Mater's wife like her um like her husband Alneami

was raised in Asir finding a ready home with Almeftaha village

where in 2004 she won the Southern Regional Arts Award one of the many

institutions that Prince Khalid had set into place her most important

work of among the most important work is never Neverland and this was not in 2014

so multiple years before the emergence of a woman being able to drive in the

country and portrays women at various rides in Abha in that same city

capital of Asir at an amusement park with the title never Neverland let's see

that there the most provocative the series which was completed in 2014 again

before women could drive our videos and photographs that show women driving

bumper cars again you can see here as Al-neami has noted these images of bumper

cars have drawn fierce reactions online and because they raised the subject of

what women drive it for years one of the most sensitive issues in Saudi society

before was legalized in 2018 can we take a moment to pause and let's see

get this right here

[Video Audio]

that's one of my favorite videos you can see she's operating on so many levels

here with this picture right you can see different women are traveling they're

moving around also some of you may know in Saudi Arabia many men drive very very

quickly again this is an issue in Saudi culture and society you can see that as

well women have freedom to move you also see the diversity of women right in that

shot different types of women some are covered some are not that handbag also

talks about issues of wealth and other things all are in that shot in that

context and it's moving in multiple directions and the title itself right

never Neverland um reinforces that what do you think

what's going on here of course you can back up and just say hey it's just women

in bumper cars I'm not talking about other things right in the early 2010's

Al-neami joined edge of Arabia one of the new private national art organizations and

showed her work at a series of galleries on these are private galleries like

al-Athr gallery in Jeddah that's from 2013 and desert designs at Dhahran and the

Eastern Province there [Arabic] and [Arabic] devised loud art an

initiative designed to democratize art galleries often viewed as what elite

spaces both here I'm in the West but also and she did so by exhibiting works

on that sold for as little as twenty or thirty dollars or lower than found in

other Saudi or Western galleries thanks to loud art a new artistic

culture emerged in depth on where in Bukhari's words anyone can attend and

everyone can buy again this is a specific idea of taking again the majlis

is one thing they were able to participate but allowing people to take

part and look at these pictures serve remarkable pictures this is 2013 a lot

of our gallery you know the different people look at desert designs in a

al-Khobar in 2017 can mix both men and women you can see in this context in

these remarkable pictures as well and again remember one other thing today we

have movie theaters in Saudi Arabia and you can show a movie in a different

context what makes a piece of art and an artwork different is they don't have one

piece of art which means that if you're going to

to everybody people have to all be there at the same time it's a remarkable thing

and it's done specifically with broadening up and democratizing as well

[Arabic] is a remarkable women in her own right was actually just awarded on one

of the BBC's top 100 women in the world you can see with this type of work they

can we do that this vision of broadening access to arts would also be adopted by

a new generation of Saudi artists working in a different medium they were

interested exploring many of the same questions as artists and a seared

explored but through stand-up comedy this new generation maybe from an

actually studied in the state's believe that existing modes of comedic

self-expression both failed to reflect their own worldviews and the worldviews

of important groups of society not surprisingly they are among the first to

recognize to respond to the fact that there was a pent-up demand in the

kingdom for cultural content that better reflected the views of Saudis and that

could go beyond limitations of existing tools to voice social opportunity to

meet this demand men like Hisham Fageeh and later women went to stand-up

comedians that blended the kingdom's cultural norms like a long tradition of

artistic expression with artistic norms from other cultures especially

American stand-up communities of color Ahmed Mater's insight about

the inherent advantages producing art in a conservative social setting rather

than what an unrestricted opportunity stand-up comedians have also embraced

the boundaries of Saudi society seeing them as an aid rather than hindrance for

their work again the same idea that we're in this conservative setting that

we in the West would view as a hindrance to art in their view it works out better

for them the system noted leading Saudi comedian Hisham Fageeh in 2017 has

to have the right amount of restrictions and right amount of freedom for it to

work to be like that golden spot thanks to this balance of forces you

noted in Saudi Arabia there's a symbolic relationship between

the artist and where he or she comes from this is an Instagram post

from last year Hisham um gave a lecture for one of my classes at Middle

Tennessee State University and it was on an art it was actually

film he was actually just in called Baraka means Baraka some of you haven't

seen it I encourage you to see it's a great film glad you've seen it as well

it's a wonderful film and one of the first things they asked him they said look you

seem to be more Western and modern and again he had gone to school at Florida

State University he also has a degree from Columbia elite schools and then

so it responded this is amazing thing we've never talked about this directly

on Twitter or or in person it and he said this the talk was fun I made sure

to listen to their questions so I could properly read the room and respond

they asked about what traditional Saudis thought of my work I made sure to

emphasize the need for nuance and that the value systems are not always in

contention with each other but rather exist in parallel ways I talked about

neo-liberalism privilege and civic identity this is a remarkable statement

we'd actually never talked about this but this is something that I found again

and again in Saudi art this basic idea and the simple of multiple images

seeming contradictory images in the same place this violates again one of our

fundamental tenets of scholars we think of the Hegelian dialectic thesis

antithesis synthesis that oppositional forces have to be in conflict

automatically and then lead maybe to a synthesis there's many things that have

been written on Saudi Arabia that makes that argument but what Fageeh is arguing

here is that these contradictory or oppositional value systems are not

always necessarily in contention there might be a context in where they exist

side by side in peace or some sort of level of tension that does not

necessarily result in war or the need for implicit change something to think

about in that context the comedy that emerged from this consciousness was often

as exoteric as the work of Gharem's functioning in the same way that an

abstract painting does notably stand-up comedy's most often performed in

interactive group settings where everyone is expected to produce

today jokes often contrast multiple ways of viewing the subject or assign meaning

to it and humor that is both highbrow and lowbrow comedians provide

just enough information for the audience to use its imagination to fill in the

blanks this type of ambiguity reinforces a key

strength of Saudi stand-up comedy the listeners are not supposed to take the

comedians work too seriously this gives the comedian the opportunity

to pretend that what they're saying is only a joke absolving them of any

responsibility of them for their any adverse consequences that might come from

what that joke means for Saudi comedy these types of structures were necessary

because it was not just the state versus society dynamic that that was important

factor again something talked about again and again about these societies

like the Saudi visual artists the comedians have also had to consider the

relationship with both state and their diverse and complicated conservative and

multifaceted society at the same time Saudi stand-up comedians had their jokes

have higher purpose namely they see themselves as being a mirror and

provoking reaction and social change ultimately Saudi stand-up comedian [Arabic]

has noted his and his colleagues'

work is positive because it encourages the viewer to critique and question

rather than passively receive starting in the late 2000s [Arabic]

and other stand-up comedians engaged a massive Saudi audience in a way that would

have been unimaginable the al-Muftahas in two key ways first they

staged large stand-up shows that drew as many as 11 or 12 thousand people

huge shows this is a famous comedian I'm going not too far out that's the

Mississippi Ibrahim a comedian again using that term Mississippi to linking

it back to the United States you can guess an idea with some of his jokes

touch them you can see this is a large show you can see they're good these are

shows he's sort of the only thing of its size and this mass thing would be like a

football game or a soccer game and major stadiums and it has the same

feel of it someone who's been to both of those things that's the first thing to

the huge shows they're advertised a lot on Saudi social media that's what get

all these people to show up to it as well

second stand-up comedians found a series of private media companies that made

original content viewed millions of times on YouTube a medium that

effectively became a new form of television after YouTube's advertising

policy in 2009 permitted the placement ads within videos media companies like

telfaz11 or [Arabic] on became very profitable through partnerships with

leading domestic and foreign companies they made a model that work and you're

seeing a transition for people who work in one industry and that also has

artists the people who actually have enough money to spend much of their time

posting directly on the arts and indeed Fageeh and others [Arabic]

had also been trained in other fields as well and they go into the arts the media

companies are going to utilize their new wealth to produce new shows to transform

what it was possible to discuss in Saudi society taking full

advantage of the fact that while the internet was regulating the kingdom it

was it didn't have the filters that existed on state and satellite

television at that time a good example of this of this process is UTURN's show

[Arabic] a newfound variety show starring Omar Hussain you

can see there a stand-up comedian whose stand-up routine you can actually see

these online covered homosexuality and other issues that have long been

seen as taboo in the Kingdom in fact when he gives those jokes he actually

gives those jokes wearing a pink shirt imagine that for a moment maybe with

that the show covered on current events the kingdom and the wider world but it

did so in ways that was very different from the approach of any news program in

the Arab world while Arab news anchors deliver information as figures of

authority using Fusha, or formal Arabic Hussein adopted the type of

everyman character who spoke on behalf of ordinary Saudis he and his guest

college characters not only spoke Amia the colloquial

Arabic of the country of speech but often form comedic teams which Hussein

playing the straight man to a series of crazy Saudi characters Hussein regularly

appeared on camera and at both you can see there or the [Arabic] long

robe worn by Saudi men but without the [Arabic] the head covering worn in formal or

professional settings at the same time Hussein telegraphed his piety by using

clearly Islamic language this was an astute choice for Hussein who delivered

his news and jokes in front of a large backdrop of night time Jeddah as you can

see here there's Jeddah with its famous fountain there in the back that you can

see there as well and this is of course it's a cosmopolitan red seaport

city that many Saudis have dismissed as far too cosmopolitan

again using a word often translated as sea vomit in some ways you can hear to

describe that gives you an idea of just some of the tensions still much like

Saudi visual artists Hussein has built a large fan base from across the

society including many people in Riyadh as well

by July 2013 he had almost half a million followers on Twitter an impressive

number for a country of less than thirty million people he's building a very large base no less

innovative was al-Ataer's staff of writers and actors beginning with Omar

Hussein's wife Lama Sabri the chief writer another one of the show's regular

staff writers is a woman [Arabic] what was one of the staff writers these women

brought unique perspectives and skills to comedy writing for Sabri is a

psychology that psychologist [Arabic] is an economist woman in hijabs

also appeared on screen playing strong figures which is very different than

many other Saudi television comedy shows which use non hijazi actresses to portray

the Regents woman women often in negative ways another one of the

successful Saudi media companies see these two figures there another

successful Saudi media company was [Arabic] thanks important to a series of videos

produced and directed by Majed Alesa one the country's most remarkable

Directors and he's from the center of the country those videos mix Western

music with Saudi cultural genres especially Samris anyone earns

Samri it's an ancient dance Saudi folk dance accompanied by the Saudi Daath

drum and set to poetry and which participants can look as if

they're possessed this is often done at night through these combination

Majed Alesa has created a musical collages which called to mind the visual work of

Gharem and Mater or even stand-up comedy by blending Samri with Western musical

norms and cultural symbols indeed Alesa has combined these cultural forces to

reach as diverse an audience as possible for instance Samry King that you see

here produced in 2015 we see Saudi men dancing to Samry music while either in

Saudi or hip-hop clothing many of them also are wearing masks so you can see our

gorilla mask you can see different types of masks you can see Obama masks

there as well frog head you'll see other things as well as part of their costumes

the young men carry or have a series of Saudi cultural symbols [Arabic] and other

things and hip-hop symbols such as a baseball cap and as you'll even see a

handgun the music and words of their songs which were written by a leading

Saudi poet [Arabic] are presented as a

collage as a representative Studios told journalist [Arabic]

Alesa aimed to revive in use an old Saudi musical genre the Samry this is an

ancient tradition by making it catchy by speeding up its rhythm and westernizing

the melody let's take a look at that video see that as well

[Video Audio

a couple things about this first let me mention one of they're actually videos

that 8IES has done showing Western students I think it's at Georgetown's

campus in Qatar watching videos of Samry react seeing their

reaction to these people going nuts and partly where this came from but I should

know what I think what's the Arabic word for King

anybody know that word Malik okay see that word there that's Majed Alesa

that's Samry what's that king right is that the word at Malik the same thing no it

isn't absolutely he's gonna draw his strategy to sort of remarkable of Saudi

visual artists of frequent use to absolve their responsibility for the

meaning of the title's again he's going to serve a meaningless is king an Arabic

word that has any real meaning is it gonna be in Hans-Wehr no you can't find that

in a Hans-Wehr Fusha dictionary but do people know what that meaning is

absolutely why the title assumes that the Saudi on says the sufficient

knowledge of English right to understand King is not the Arabic jibberish but

rather a transliteration of an Arabic word with a clear meaning that was a

safe assumption in 2015 since English had become a popular language among many

levels of Saudi society not just elites thanks in part to King Abdullah's

scholarship program that had sent thousands of Saudi men and women in the

United States and other english-speaking countries and indeed he can use this

term to say Samry king but he's not referring to the king

of Saudi Arabia and seeing in this context is what that means

again you'll see that term referred to in other context the Drifters for

instance where there's drifter kings but again you can see that there

well Samry King both Samry King and other recordings that the Alesa has done

admit been collectively in more than 88 million times on YouTube again this is

another one we'll talk about for watches this is a number that has nearly tripled

the population of the Kingdom clear proof that the young Saudi director is

an organic intellectual who can channel both the experiences of views

mass's remarkably one video [Arabic] which uses piano music and Samri

music together sort of western and together an Eastern North Saudi music was

viewed nearly seven hundred forty thousand times with the first month

after was it was posted on YouTube number of things thus it should come as

no surprise the two works of art which combine Western and Saudi cultural norms

were released on time play a role in the debate on women driving again one of the

most sensitive issues in the kingdom over the last decade the first of course

was no woman no Drive a satirical music video released in 2013 I'm sure some of

you have seen it in the room got a lot of play in the West which starred both

Hasheem Fageeh and others at telfaz11 you can see them there was a

video actually sung in English but you can see at the bottom it has both

translations on both with English as well as Arabic there as well and also

as you note the second major videos Hawajis or concerns has anyone see

this came out in late 2016 which was a satirical video about a group of

Saudi women who are driving you'll see that and also dance and are on

skateboards as well and the two satirical videos which have been viewed

on YouTube more than 35 million times received extensive coverage outside of

the kingdom again hundreds of articles video programs other things about these

two works and they show reveal both the global appeal of Saudi art and more

importantly its role as a barometer of the prevailing cultural and political

winds in the country and the Hawajis one is even more remarkable because it's

actually done entirely in Arabic the videos this one is translations in

English in Arabic that one is done entirely in Arabic and shows just how

powerful of course this can be both at home and abroad for their part

Saudi artists have continued to pursue new opportunities at home and abroad

including partnerships in certain cases with business of governing entities

which have tried to provide strong incentives for them to receive funding

or at least support while retaining their integrity as artists for instance you can

see here Ahmed Mater accompany Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to a

conference in Beijing in 2016 where he presented a piece you

can see here that celebrated of the history of Chinese relations with the

Arab world it's a huge piece on one side has the Hajj and other things

you can see the Silk Road there as well at the bottom different types of images

six months later he was appointed director of a National Art Institute

linked to a non-profit [Arabic] and telfaz11 have continued to produce

powerful social commentary one that you see there even after receiving

substantial investments from private firms in 2015 and 2018 respectively so

again this process is still very much going on other artists have

traveled to the west where they have studied art and film and as we'll see in

a moment in the case of Tam Tam join actually the Western entertainment industry

last year she partnered with Saudi director [Arabic] a man

also starring part in Los Angeles film for a music video that's going to

explore a marriage gender in Saudi Arabia it's in English it's meant for a

Western audience but also touches on distinctly Saudi issues including that

of driving let's take a look at that and talk for a moment about it afterwards

[Video Audio]

remarkable piece isn't it and did anyone see the sort of other cultural

images I was talking with Andrew about this beforehand that you saw in that

piece that you saw in other pieces you saw there are cultural things as well

and do people also see the sort of clearly Saudi cultural examples the

dates for instance other things associated with weddings and who pulls

her in to the wedding did anyone catch that who's the hand who pulls her

into marriage it's the mother right again is anyone who any women who have

gone to Saudi weddings now in the back of the room the women part of the

wedding there are all these matchmakers you know what with mothers looking

to find brides for their for their sons key part of society you can see in that

pictures anybody else wanted to comment on that before I go further sort of a

powerful piece okay moving on that just thought I did something that hit me very

hard she's a remarkable director oh yeah what struck me the most was in the

wedding how everyone was having fun

except her yeah yeah which is also itself an image what is that supposed to

make you think about her and the choice that she's had to make

it was something to please society

yeah which raises some interesting questions on itself

yeah about women as well about them and again she's writing and it's also I

should note that she's of course writing the music that it's directed by

men which it gives it an additional level of credibility and again

Michelle someone whose work I've written about the past and someone

as powerful on TomTom is herself and a rising star we're hoping to get her to

Washington in a moment something a lot of fun okay thank you for sharing that

comment um by the time [Arabic] was released the

kingdom's online and artistic community had become a single national movement

today visual artists and comedians and even directors as you can see here Ahd Kamel

look to culture as a vehicle for transforming society and directly

from the bottom up looking to art rather than violence for salvation the

strategies in part work because Saudi artists retract a central tenet of

Western history and modernity when we hear again and again these days in

Washington and be out by many on television that tribalism should be

abandoned in favor of individualism and other people think other things as well

that has been a critical choice for tribalism and religion are viewed

suspicion by many intellectuals in the west yet individualism has its weaknesses

just as tribalism and religion have their strengths yet yeah the latter in

fact even addresses some of the problems inherent in the format as in the lonely

crowd the people have been discussing today wish to maintain elements of

tribalism while functioning in the contemporary secular world in which

individualism is paramount all these different identities you can see this

Khalid Moss a comedian the comedy club you can see her in Jeddah if you have

not seen Ahd Kamel's movie Sanctity which is actually available on the web which

talks about individual women and her choices but also how a society she plays

a woman who is pregnant and whose husband suddenly dies and

she's an orphan and how a society that portrays its values how does it solve it

for her or not solve her issues is a powerful image and seeing this context

we're thinking about again all these different contexts that paradox this

idea of functioning of again maintaining elements of tribalism while functioning

in the temporary world with individualism provides a powerful lesson

for observers of Saudi Arabia and its society politics society if scholars

limit their focus to the men and the women at the forefront of society they

may miss many of the instrumental creators who build virtually everything

cultural and mass opinion are shaped by it the art that a society generates

while that process often happens in secret or that explicit assertion

was away from public view Saudi artists aspired to be to use Shelley's famous

phrase the unacknowledged legislators of their country they begin by bringing

complex issues into the spotlight of art and of laughter thank you very much for

your time

The Description of Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom