Global Economy

India, Saudi Arabia discuss mechanisms to promote joint cultural projects

As the Saudi Crown Prince undertakes a state visit to India, Delhi and Riyadh have explored the possibility of offering artist residencies and holding joint training programmes in cultural domains such as film, culinary arts, and visual arts. The two sides have also discussed mechanisms for preserving intangible cultural heritage and historical sites.

These programmes will introduce Indians to Saudi culture and vice versa and will foster mutual understanding and collaboration in various fields, Saudi Minister of Culture Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud told ET’s Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury in an exclusive interview.

Q: The Ministry of Culture’s recent participation in the 4th G20 Culture Ministers’ Meeting highlighted the importance of cultural cooperation among nations. In what ways has the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia contributed to the G20 Cultural Track?
A: The Kingdom’s contributions to the G20 Cultural Track stem from our belief that culture is fundamental to the human experience, as it both expresses and shapes our humanity. We also believe that culture is key to social and economic prosperity, which is why we put culture at the top of our global policy agenda in 2020 as part of our G20 Presidency. We are proud to have organised and hosted the first meeting of the G20 Culture Ministers, a meeting through which culture was recognized as a significant driver of sustainable development and established as a distinct G20 track. By focusing on culture, we can both stimulate economic growth and encourage people to appreciate cultural diversity, which will, in turn, foster international dialogue and lead to more inclusive societies.

After we helped establish the G20 Culture Track, the Kingdom launched a series of initiatives designed to support culture and heritage at home and abroad, including training programs, funding opportunities, and new cultural festivals to support Saudi creatives and help them find venues for their work. Another initiative was the development of a world-class marine centre dedicated to preserving the underwater cultural heritage of the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf. To support the global creative sector, we partnered with UNESCO by investing $25 million in strategic UNESCO programs designed to protect and preserve cultural heritage, and we will be hosting the extended 45th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Riyadh this month.

We have further supported culture globally by participating in the G20 Culture Ministers’ Meetings in Italy, Indonesia, and India and by calling for the permanent inclusion of the Cultural Track in the G20 agenda. We see these G20 meetings as an invaluable platform through which leaders in the cultural and creative sectors can collaborate to preserve the world’s cultural heritage and ensure a sustainable future for all.

Under India’s leadership of the G20 this year, the Ministers of Culture have articulated an impressive set of priorities that Saudi Arabia fully supports. A prime example of this is our support of the “Dive into Heritage” project, a digital platform developed in cooperation with UNESCO and UNOSAT-UNITAR to protect and promote world heritage sites and intangible heritage practices and make them more accessible to the public. We are also facilitating the identification, preservation, and protection of Saudi Arabia’s cultural heritage through a digital metaverse, which is being created by the Saudi Heritage Commission and the Culture Archive Center.Q. The cultural ties between Saudi Arabia and India have been growing significantly. Could you elaborate on the various cultural initiatives by the Ministry of Culture targeted toward India as a market?
A. During my last visit to India, in April 2022, I had the pleasure of meeting Bollywood luminaries including Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, and Saif Ali Khan, among others, and that pleasure was renewed several months later when several representatives of the Indian film industry attended the second Red Sea International Film Festival (RSIFF), where Shah Rukh Khan received an honorary award from the Festival for his exceptional contributions to the film industry. The successful world premiere of Kabir Khan’s movie “83” also illustrates the popularity of Indian Cinema in the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia and India have a long-standing relationship grounded in strong economic and socio-cultural relations. For many years, the Kingdom has valued India as an important ally. The Saudi Ministry of Culture has been working to build on this history and strengthen India-Saudi cooperation even further by launching a series of cultural initiatives.

Recent meetings have been focused on creating opportunities to strengthen cooperation and cultural exchange. We have explored the possibility of offering artist residencies and holding joint training programmes in cultural domains such as film, culinary arts, and visual arts. We have also discussed mechanisms for preserving intangible cultural heritage and historical sites. These programmes will introduce Indians to Saudi culture and vice versa and will foster mutual understanding and collaboration in various fields.

Shah Rukh Khan’s film Dunki was one of the first international films to be shot in the futuristic city of NEOM. How do you see such creative projects contributing to the cultural ties between India and Saudi Arabia?

Projects such as Dunki beautifully illustrate how creative collaborations can unite people through shared narratives, transcending geographic and cultural borders. In addition to showcasing NEOM, this project enabled knowledge transfer between our countries at every step in the filmmaking value chain, from developing talent and infrastructure to technical training, production, and distribution, strengthening the ties between our respective film industries.

As part of Saudi Vision 2030, we want to become a world-class film hub, and Indian-Saudi film collaborations could greatly contribute to that transformation. There would, of course, be an economic boost for both countries, but the value of these cinematic collaborations would far exceed that. Through their impact on audiences as well as film industry professionals, these projects would boost cultural understanding and dialogue, enriching the lives of all involved as well as the larger relationship between our countries.

Q. Looking ahead, what are the key areas you envision for further strengthening the cultural ties and cooperation between KSA and India? How do you look at the impact of the various cultural initiatives of the ministry on Indian-Saudi ties?
A. From cultural exchanges and training programs in art, literature, music, cinema, heritage, filmmaking, and the culinary arts to art exhibitions and residency programs for artists in both countries, there are numerous exciting possibilities ahead for KSA and India.

Our Ministry will continue to preserve and protect cultural heritage by partnering with organizations such as the UNESCO, ICCROM, and ICOMOS to employ digital technologies—including AI, virtual reality, and augmented reality—to document and share our culture. We anticipate that through cooperation and knowledge exchanges, the KSA and India can work together to bridge digital divides and build a common future grounded in deep mutual cultural appreciation.

Joint cultural initiatives can offer economic boosts to all participants; this is why we support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and want to integrate culture and the creative economy into our development policies before and after 2030. Strengthening our cultural ties with India should yield economic benefits for both countries. Together, we can help to build a prosperous, creative economy for the world.

Q. Why is it important to strengthen relations between G20 countries to protect common cultural heritage, and how does this relate to Indian-Saudi cultural cooperation?
A. Although culture may be expressed differently in every country, it is at the root of our common humanity, making international collaborations essential. By working together to establish international standards and to share resources and good practices for the preservation of heritage and the development of the cultural and creative sectors, not only do we support each other but we also come to understand and appreciate cultural diversity on a deeper level. This work can and should happen on a global scale, but it is perhaps most impactful on a bilateral level, such as through the growing cultural cooperation between India and Saudi Arabia. By exploring our mutual cultural affinities, we can deepen the ties between our countries, fulfilling the many wonderful promises of sustainable collaboration.


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