GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Riyadh National Museum, Saudi Arabia: a place where pride and identity meet
Paper Proposal Text :
Riyadh National Museum opened in 1999 in King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Historic Centre as part of the Centenary Celebrations for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Two years before only, Canadian designers from Lord Cultural Resources were asked to create a museum ‘which would inspire national pride in Saudi culture and history and promote museum-going as a leisure activity’ (Lord Cultural Resources, 1999: iii). Fifteen years after, Riyadh National Museum seems to be used for the same goals.
Riyadh National Museum consists of two wings relating the pre-Islamic and the Islamic history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; the pre-Islamic section being connected to the Islamic one with a long bridge symbolizing Hegira – the beginning of the Islamic era. Seven halls relate the history of Saudi Arabia from the creation of the universe to the unification of the Kingdom, while an eighth hall presents the Hajj and the Two Holy Mosques and remind the ready-to-leave visitors that Saudi Arabia is the guardian of these two Holy Muslim sites.
Riyadh National Museum display seems therefore to emphasize the Islamic component of Saudi national identity as Islam is, one the one hand, at the heart of the foundation of Saudi nation since the eighteenth century and, on the other hand, a major component of Saudi citizens daily life. This initial impression may be confirmed by the objects’ agency within the halls and the symbolic use of some of them that are linked to the major events in Saudi Arabian history (the Revelation to Muhammad, the Wahhabi alliance, the Unification). These objets-symboles – especially the Qur’an and the sword – are displayed in such way that even non-Saudi and non-Muslim visitors easily understand their signification and power in Saudi history. Exhibition components such as panels, texts and maps contribute also to the Saudi narratives displayed within Riyadh National Museum.
This paper aims to dress an exhaustive study of Riyadh National Museum exhibition and display in order to present it as a clear example of the narratives displayed by Saudi government within the museums. In fact, Riyadh National Museum was conceived to ‘tell the story of Islam as understood by Muslims, as well as the history of Saudi Arabia’ (Lord Cultural Resources, 1999: iii) while Saudi government at that time was aware that ‘museums have educational and cultural missions and [that] they play a role in developing the sense of loyalty to the country’ (al-Kahtani, 2009: 6). Thus Riyadh National Museum seems to concur with the definition of a national museum given by French museum theorists André Desvallées and François Mairesse (2011: 630): ‘In that case, the national museum endeavours to embody the heritage, to imagine the history, to glorify it, giving the population an image if not always flattering, at least worthy of appropriation of its ancestors, its natural environment and its development potential.”

Al-Kahtani, Delayl Bint Mutlaq, Museum education in the national museum. Origin, targets and achievements, Riyadh, Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, 2009
Desvallées A. & Mairesse F., Dictionnaire encyclopédique de muséologie, Paris, Armand Colin, 2011
Lord Cultural Resources, The National Museum of Saudi Arabia & Darat al Malik ‘Abd Al ‘Aziz historic Murabba’ palace complex in Riyadh, 1999