Painting & Patronage

Article excerpt

Pat Lancaster visited a unique art exhibition in London.

The largest cultural collaboration between Saudi Arabia and Britain was launched in London in June. Painting & Patronage, a unique art exhibition staged at the Banqueting Hall, in the shadow of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, included 26 oil paintings by HRH Prince Khalid Al Faisal Al Saud and 30 recent watercolours by HRH the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles.

Prince Khalid has known the Prince of Wales for many years. "I hope he considers me to be a friend," he told The Middle East at the opening of the event. In addition to their royal birthright the two princes have many things in common, not least a wide range of cultural interests, keen patronage of the arts and a shared passion for painting and the dramatic landscape of Saudi Arabia's Asir province. But Painting & Patronage is not only a celebration of a common cultural bond between the two princes, but also between their two countries and their cultures -- and this could be just the beginning. "It is my dearest wish that further initiatives will be organised which will help to bring closer together our two peoples and cultures," said the Prince of Wales.

In 1993, Prince Charles gave a lecture entitled `Islam in the West', in his capacity as Patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. In it, he put forward a strong argument: "There is nothing to be gained, and much harm to be done, by refusing to comprehend the extent to which people in the Islamic world genuinely fear our own western materialism and mass culture as a deadly way of life. There is a great deal, `he argued,' the West can learn from the philosophy and values of Islam, especially from its integral view of the universe. Islam refuses to separate man and nature, religion and science, mind and matter and has preserved a metaphysical and unified view of ourselves and the world around us."

He went on to speak of a deep and fundamental need for the West to rediscover the balance between the spiritual and the material dimension, arguing that tolerance, respect, and understanding for each other's culture, and exchange between them, was crucial in helping to break down prejudice and advance a healthy and mutually beneficial cross-fertilisation of ideas and knowledge.

Prince Charles' words resonated with Prince Khalid, who, studied at Oxford as a young man and has shown a lifelong dedication to helping today's Muslims find a spiritual and emotional anchorage in the roots of their Islamic culture.

Throughout his working life Prince Khalid has been inspired by the humanity and achievement of his father, King Faisal, who reigned between 1964 and 1975. During the 11 years of his rule, King Faisal did more than anyone else to transform the kingdom of Saudi Arabia into a modern country and nowhere is Prince Khalid's pursuit of the ideals and vision of his father more recognisable than in his work for the King Faisal Foundation, which he helped found after his father's death in 1975. The Foundation, of which Prince Khalid has been director-general for many years, has since established itself as one of the most important philanthropic organisations in the world.

Prince Khalid was appointed governor of Asir province in 1968. The remote region in south-western Saudi Arabia is dominated by a mountain range, part of the same geological fault line as Africa's Great Rift Valley, which emerges at the other side of the Red Sea. Asir, in the late 1960s, was an impenetrable region, across which were scattered hundreds of isolated communities with no infrastructure. Prince Khalid recalls: As soon as I arrived in Asir I found many features which caused me to fall in love with the region at first sight. The people were endowed with nobility, courage and virtue. Asir's nature itself was captivating, with green and fertile hills and extensive thick forests, its terraced and flat plantations, its wonderful climate. …