Jeddah is Saudi Arabia’s most liberal city. Its incipient contemporary art scene is fuelled by the city’s
energetic youth, who are increasingly turning to the arts to bypass socio-cultural constraints on freedom
of expression. They need more exposure than they can find in the city’s small gallery life, so exchange
opportunities are very welcome.
Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, is also its most conservative city. Artistic developments here are
carefully tuned to the Kingdom’s cautious cultural policies. A large audience for the arts exists among
the city’s educated population, but it can only be catered to ‘under the radar’ or in officially sanctioned
Kuwait has much artistic potential, as its early blossoming in the 70s points out. Despite a thriving
gallery and collector’s scene, the political turmoil in which the city-state finds itself creates an uncertain
environment for artistic expression. Artistic exchange is eagerly welcomed by the city’s private art
Manama is probably the Gulf’s most liberal city, and some truly exciting artistic events have taken
place here over the last decades. Bahrain seems better connected to its ancient history than other Gulf
countries. Current socio-political conflict, however, has put on hold some of the kingdom’s forward
looking cultural policies.
Doha, the capital of Qatar, is the scene of the Gulf’s most rapid museum-building activities. The cultural
policies of this tiny state (300.000 native population) are aligned with its efforts to play an important
regional role. Indigenous art production levels are still low, but this will certainly change given the focus
on arts education.
Sharjah is home to the Gulf’s most flourishing non-commercial art scene. Between the Sharjah Biennial,
the numerous activities of the Sharjah Art Foundation and the city’s many museums, the tiny emirate
has proven to be a staunch supporter of artistic development, and a willing partner for high-level artistic
Dubai is the powerhouse of the Gulf’s contemporary art scene. The city’s laissez-faire policies have
attracted artists, good galleries and collectors from the whole region. The commercial art scene is
generating a cultural infrastructure, providing exciting opportunities for engagement to art critics and
Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE and its largest and wealthiest emirate, is investing heavily in its
cultural infrastructure. This includes world-class museums, art education and, more generally, fostering
a well-educated and culturally knowledgeable citizenry. The local art scene is still quite small but
Muscat, the capital of Oman, is witnessing the results of a four-decade long cultural modernization
effort under its current ruler. The relaxed city, attractive to tourists, provides a good setting to enjoy the
arts. Performing arts, particularly music, for the time being overshadow the small visual arts scene.