UK museums warned over dealings with Saudi regime

Former V&A chief says contracts should be reviewed in the wake of Middle East instability

The former director of London's Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) has expressed concern after it emerged that several British national museums are either considering or undertaking paid consultancy work for a new, state-owned Saudi Arabian cultural centre.

Sir Mark Jones said there was a "degree of risk" involved in advising the new King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, due to be completed next year, partly because of political instability in the region.

The new centre will include a theatre, garden, children's museum, library and galleries for Islamic art, modern art and natural history, making it one of the most high-profile cultural offerings in the Middle East.

The new project is financed by Saudi Arabian state-owned oil company, Aramco, whose employees have also sought advice from London's British Museum, Natural History Museum and Harvard University's Peabody Museum over new exhibitions and potential loans from their own collections.

Sir Mark made his comments at a May meeting of V&A trustees where a potential partnership was discussed. He pointed out there was a "degree of risk in engagement with Saudi Arabia".

While the director left his post in September, a source close to him said his worries were generalised and related to political instability in the region and political repercussions of such a high-profile, international collaboration.

A V&A spokeswoman confirmed the museum was still "in discussions" with the centre over advice and loans. The May trustee meeting also highlighted how any fee given to the V&A would be spread over a number of years.

A spokeswoman for London's Natural History Museum confirmed it is getting paid to work "with the team that are developing and designing the King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture".

"Our role is focused on the content development for gallery four, a 1,300sq m public exhibition space examining the social, cultural and natural history of Saudi Arabia," continued the spokeswoman. While the centre is officially due to open next year, an Aramco source said it was more likely to be in 2013 because of the project's scale. A new Guggenheim museum in Abu Dhabi has recently been put on hold because of a review of its contracting process.

Norwegian architect Snohetta, based in Oslo, has designed the new centre.

"The centre's different components will cater to all segments of the society's ages and tastes," said Aramco president Abdallah Jum'ah earlier this year.

Despite the Saudi Arabian government's enthusiasm for international cultural support, it has recently come under fire for failing to protect its own heritage.

Last month, members of the Islamic Research Foundation spoke out against the destruction of heritage sites around Mecca to make way for modern malls and hotels.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor