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Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom

Sean Foley
Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom
ISBN: 978-1-62637-756-1
ISBN: 978-1-62637-986-2
ISBN: 978-1-62637-998-5
2021/221 pages/LC: 2018039686
Originally published in hardcover in 2019.
Also of interest: Mohammed bin Salman: The Icarus of Saudi Arabia? by David B. Ottaway
"A fascinating and multi-layered exploration of art and culture in the kingdom.... Changing Saudi Arabia is an important book."—Caroline Montagu, Asian Affairs

"Foley's book, by systematically detailing and analysing the Saudi arts and culture scene, critically informs our discussion about Saudi Arabia today and the ways in which it is or is not changing" —Courtney Freer, LSE Middle East Centre

"Helps illustrate that the Kingdom has a vibrant cultural scene and cannot be reduced, nor properly understood, by simply focusing on the hoary themes of royals, oil and Islam." —Bernard Haykel, Middle East Journal

"Outstanding and original…. Foley provides a fascinating portrait of a side of Saudi society that is rarely considered: its creative class."—Jonathan Fulton, Zayed University

"Refreshing and engaging.... Pushing back against stereotypes, Foley explores the creative production of Saudis, whom we learn are vibrantly engaged in reshaping the social and cultural dynamics of their country.... A must read for anyone interested in the future of Saudi Arabia."—Natana J. DeLong-Bas, Boston College


T. E. Lawrence once observed that Saudi Arabia had "so little art" that it could "be said to have no art at all." Whether that was once the case is arguable. But that it is not the case now is clear in Sean Foley's Changing Saudi Arabia.

Exploring the contemporary arts movement in Saudi Arabia in the context of the kingdom's changing political realities, Foley finds that artists are expressing thoughts and feelings that the Saudi public typically has not felt safe to articulate. These artists are promoting discussions about the need for peaceful and progressive social reform—and they are doing it in ways that escape the wrath of the absolute monarchy. Without confronting the state or the political system, Foley argues, Saudi society is exercising significant agency through its cultural production.


Sean Foley is professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University. He is author of The Arab Gulf States: Beyond Oil and Islam.


  • Creating Change in Saudi Arabia.
  • The Modern Saudi Visual Arts Movement.
  • The Emerging Comedy Scene.
  • Media Companies and Filmmakers.
  • Shaping the Future.