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Podcast | Is Saudi Arabia the next big cultural powerhouse?

A Unesco conference and archeological summit in Saudi Arabia are the latest examples of the country’s increasing focus on culture as part of the so-called Vision 2030 programme.

We look at Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented and lavishly funded focus on contemporary and ancient culture and how that relates to ongoing concerns about artistic freedom and human rights abuses in the kingdom.

Alia Al-Senussi, a cultural strategist, and senior advisor at Art Basel and to the Saudi ministry of culture, joins host Ben Luke to discuss the contemporary art scene, and Melissa Gronlund, a reporter on the Middle East for The Art Newspaper, tells us about the push to reveal hitherto underexplored Saudi heritage.

Julianknxx, a production still from Chorus in Rememory of Flight (2023) © Studioknxx

The Sierra Leone-born, London-based artist and poet Julianknxx this week unveiled a new project at London’s Barbican Centre, Chorus in Rememory of Flight. The multi-screen installation features performers and choirs from the African diaspora who Julianknxx met on a 4,000-mile trip around European cities with colonial histories, from Lisbon via Marseille, Rotterdam and Berlin to London. We talk to him about this epic endeavour.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, Studies for the Libyan Sibyl (around 1510–11) © Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest (1924) Photo: bpk/The Metropolitan Museum of Art

And this episode’s Work of the Week is among the greatest works on paper ever made: Michelangelo’s studies in red chalk for the Libyan Sibyl, one of the most distinctive figures on his Sistine Chapel ceiling. The drawing features in Michelangelo and Beyond at the Albertina in Vienna and one of its curators, Constanze Malissa, tells us more about it.

• Art in Saudi Arabia: A New Creative Economy? by Rebecca Anne Proctor, with Alia Al-Senussi, published 30 November, Lund Humphries, £19.99.

• Julianknxx: Chorus in Rememory of Flight, The Curve, Barbican Centre, London, and online on WePresent, until 11 February 2024; Julianknxx is in A World in Common: Contemporary African Photography, Tate Modern, until 14 January 2024.

• Michelangelo and Beyond, Albertina, Vienna, 15 September-14 January 2024.

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