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?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
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: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own