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2022 Winners

The 2022 Rawabi Holding Awards ceremony was held during the Society’s Annual Dinner in London on 7 November. The Society was honoured to welcome Mr Abdulaziz Al Turki, Chairman of Rawabi Holding to the event, along with a number of dignitaries and special guests from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

The Rawabi Holding Awards are a longstanding highpoint in The Saudi British Society’s calendar, and were held at The Carlton Room, Institute of Directors, 116 Pall Mall. It is the first award ceremony since 2020, following a break caused by the pandemic.

The evening began at 6.30pm with a reception, followed by welcome speeches and the presentations, after which a buffet dinner was served, providing an opportunity for members and guests to socialise.

The Committee are grateful to members who nominated persons for the 2022 Rawabi Awards. The two worthy winners, both of whom are judged to have made significant contributions to friendship and understanding between our two peoples, are:

Dr Thalia Kennedy
Dr Thalia Kennedy was the founding director of Turquoise Mountain’s artisan programme in Saudi Arabia, and is currently the organisation’s international Creative Director. In 2015 she began working across the Kingdom with artisan groups and diverse crafts heritage, to revive traditions and to develop professional and commercial opportunities for artisans working today.

She spent twelve months studying and mapping artisan communities across Saudi Arabia, researching techniques and traditions of artisans across all of the Kingdom’s provinces. Today, Turquoise Mountain’s programme in Saudi Arabia has trained more than 1,400 Saudi craftswomen and men, developing their techniques to create authentic, bespoke and commercially viable heritage collections. Artisans have also received a variety of business skills trainings from international and local experts to help them integrate into world commerce, and to start and grow thriving businesses. These Saudi artisans have created 9,000 craft pieces based in local heritage, spanning 48 craft traditions, including ‘qat’ painting, decorative woodwork, plaster carving, ‘sedu’ embroidery, ‘zeri’ embroidery, ceramics and more, collaborating with 66 workshops across Al Jouf, Madinah, Asir, Qassim, Makkah, Eastern Province, Riyadh, Jazan, Baha, and Ha’il.

Dr. Kennedy currently serves as an Advisor to the Saudi Ministry of Culture. In addition to her work in Saudi Arabia, Thalia was the founding director of the Turquoise Mountain Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture in Kabul from 2007-2011. She spent several years as Deputy Director at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, and has served as a Senior Consultant to the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage.

In her current role as Turquoise Mountain’s Creative Director, she oversees access to commercial markets, bespoke client projects and partnerships, design and product development, and professional opportunities for artisan communities across Turquoise Mountain’s programmes.Dr. Kennedy has a PhD in Islamic Art History and was a visiting scholar at the Getty Conservation.

Dr Ghadah W. Alharthi
Dr Alharthi currently works as a Middle East specialist and cultural consultant delivering research and content curation to consultancies in the UK with projects in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.She is a Senior Lecturer and Associate Director of the MA Innovation Management at Central St Martins, University of the Arts London. She teaches on culture, social networks, gender and social innovation. For the past nine years, Dr Alharthi has been collaborating with key arts and culture institutions in the Gulf, and UK to promote emerging and established artists from Saudi Arabia and the MENA region.

She has delivered international events and engaged a wide range of public sector, education, creative and commercial industries between the UK and the Gulf. Alongside her work as a consultant and academic, she is a Young Adviser at Chatham House advising the board on the governance and strategic direction of the institute and on developing next generation engagement strategy.

Dr Alharthi has a PhD in Social Entrepreneurship and an MSc in International Management from SOAS, University of London, as well as a BA in Financial  Management and Informatics from the University of Sheffield.

As a Saudi national based in London, Dr Alharthi’s mission is bridgebuilding between communities, increasing cultural exchange and communication between Saudi Arabia and the UK through her work, research and participation in international events She is a member of Chatham House, Saudi British Society, Royal United Services Institute, Politico and The International Institute.

Speeches from the Deserved Winners of the 2022 Rawabi Holding Awards

Dr Thalia Kennedy Acceptance Speech

Good evening.  I would first like to my sincerest thanks, to Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Turki and to the Saudi British Society for this wonderful evening and very kind Award.  And to Sir William and the Committee for the nomination, it has come as such a happy surprise, and great honour.  It is also lovely to connect with Dr Ghadah, and to learn more about your outreach, advisory and academic work, in support of artists and culture internationally.

And to my colleagues in Saudi Arabia, and the many artisans who have so been so kind in sharing their wisdom, knowledge and skills, and generational heritage. 

Working alongside artisans has been a part of my life for many years – inspired by talks with my mother whilst I was at school about the craftsmanship and innovation of Renaissance Italy, soon followed by travels around the Middle East and Asia, and studies into the great traditions and ateliers of the Islamic world.

In 2015, I was asked by the charity Turquoise Mountain to set up a programme in Saudi Arabia, in partnership with Barea at the then Saudi Commission for Tourism & Heritage, and the British Council.  Established at the behest of His Majesty King Charles in 2006, Turquoise Mountain’s charitable mission is to support heritage communities, revitalising artisan traditions, and bringing artisan skills and knowledge to new generations. I had been lucky enough to work with the charity’s programme in Afghanistan for several years, and was thrilled to return to the organisation, and to travel to Saudi Arabia – but with only a partial idea of the scope of heritage we were to encounter. 

Our mandate for the project, with Dr Jasir Al-Herbish at Barea, was to find new ways to support artisan communities across the Kingdom, in the safeguard of craftsmanship heritage and new pathways for artisans today.  This began with a mapping of artisan communities around Saudi Arabia.  With Dr Jasir’s team, we talked to and met with over 250 artisans, to explore their traditions, artistic production and current ways of working.  We visited heritage festivals, travelled across the Kingdom to individual workshops and homes, met with communities in the regional offices of the Commission, and through NGOs working in local areas.

We met many communities and individual artisans – from the plasterworks of Qassim, to the pit loom weavers, spinners and embroiders who create renowned bisht robes with their zeri embroidery in the city of Hofuf – and many others across the Kingdom. I remember the sense of welcome, the warmth of personal interactions – and moments of joy and great fun, including being volunteered as a mannequin by Asiri embroiderers trying out their new designs, and a happy if unexpected afternoon discussion traditional fishing tools and methods in Khobar.

The overall goal of this process was to understand the status of this important heritage, and how best to support master artisans around the country, in their different contexts – from women artisans working from their homes, to local organisations supporting craftsmanship, to larger workshops engaged with commercial clients.

The artisans we met were at once both bearers of ancient knowledge and heritage, and alongside innovators and entrepreneurs, thinking through how their craftsmanship can be applied to today’s markets and buyers.  They are custodians of living heritage that will iterate and develop in news ways in the decades to come as it has done over centuries past. In answer to some of their needs, we started working in a few different ways.

As a collaborative team, we established training programmes for young artisans to learn from masters and international technical experts. We advocated for the safeguard of heritage traditions, working with the Saudi Heritage Preservation Society to initiate the inscription of Asiri wall painting on the UNESCO World Heritage List. We collaborated with interior and product designers to help identify visual stories from different parts of the Kingdom, to integrate craftsmanship into their work. And, we identified and oversaw commercial production opportunities – supporting production of artworks and furnishings for luxury hotels

To date, Turquoise Mountain in Saudi Arabia has supported over 66 workshops and programmes, enabled production of many thousands of products for hotels and retail, and maintains a network of support to artisans working across 10 provinces.

I feel incredibly privileged to have met so many of these master artisans and experienced at first hand the depth and diversity of this single aspect of the Kingdom’s heritage. The artisans describe how they are part of extended networks of interaction, telling stories of artistic interaction, changing function of objects and social needs, trade in artistic materials, and exchange of skills and knowledge – in response to markets and patrons.

Many of these artisans have become long-term friends to the Turquoise Mountain programme in Saudi Arabia – that is now led by the excellent John Oliver and his team, with newly expanded partnerships recently initiated with the Ministry of Culture and Royal Commission for Al Ula.

Since leaving Saudi Arabia in late 2017, I have been lucky enough to continue my links with the Kingdom, both through my on-going role at Turquoise Mountain, and working as an advisor to cultural entities in their nascent stages of development.  Including the Ministry of Culture’s new entity, The Royal Institute for Traditional Arts in Riyadh, that represents a new framework to support the transmission of the living heritage and traditional arts knowledge of Saudi Arabia – from the visual to performing arts traditions, and careers in museums, conservation and heritage management for young Saudis and international students.

Dr Ghadah W. Alharthi Acceptance Speech

As-Salaam Aleikum wa rahmat allahi wa barakatu.

Your Royal Highness, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Alturki, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am honoured to be standing here before you this evening.

I will start off by thanking Shaikh Abdulaziz Al Turki for his generosity and support of the Saudi-British Society. Rawabi holding is a very forward looking and dynamic organisation. This award is further proof of the values it carries and its belief in, not only bridging culture, but also of supporting women. I’m truly humbled and excited, especially since I have long admired many of the previous winners of this award.

Thank you also to the committee of the Society for nominating me and then awarding me the Rawabi Prize. I have deep respect and admiration for the work of the Saudi-British Society, which continues to play a major role in helping to promote mutual understanding and cooperation between two countries that have long and historic relations with one another. And, I am very happy to have become one of their trustees as of last month. 

While preparing this speech I looked back at my journey. I realised that it was very much entwined with certain policies, initiatives and agreements between Saudi Arabia and the UK that were announced more or less the same year as I was taking a major step in my life.  Both countries have a special place in my heart. It is a privilege to have been able to strengthen cultural relations and to lead on major projects and research, with talented teams and academics in London.

You see, I set foot in the UK in 2009, not for the first time, but for the first time as a student to start my undergraduate studies at the University of Sheffield. Our student union was top in the country and I’ve spent many weekends volunteering and supporting its activities. I also spent a whole summer in China on an exchange program and many other summers since coming here, exploring the UK and its many beautiful parts.

While at Sheffield, I was approached by the University’s International Office in my first year, and they asked me to join their team, where I eventually worked for 2 years on their marketing and strategy in the Gulf. A lovely coincidence is that I had met their team before at the British Council in Saudi Arabia.  In fact, some of my earliest life memories are of spending my afternoons after school at the British council in the diplomatic quarter in Riyadh. The British Council’s office was established there in 1975, and that had a major influence on where I would decide to study, work and live later.

I believe that these educational and cultural institutions are very important and connect the dots in my journey.  Part of the independent research that I do looks at the influence of British companies/non governmental organisations and the creative exchange between both countries. I just submitted a chapter for a book on creativity and networks in the Middle East and North Africa which has an interview with Turquoise Mountain and the Prince’s Foundation. Both UK organisations that have contributed to the development of that creative industry. I remember going camping in AlUla, interviewing locals whose lives have changed because of the new cultural policies that the Royal Commission for AlUla has announced. But also meeting teams from British organisations that are doing a brilliant job there. It was vital for me to highlight their work there and also to highlight the transformation happening in places like AlUla. They are both very much interlinked.

This research also interlinks and feeds into my work as an academic. I will admit to you all, that my favourite part of the week, is when I’m teaching my students at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London where I’m a Senior Lecturer and Associate Director of the MA Innovation Management program. I believe that teaching is a way of giving back and passing on knowledge. It’s important for me that my students learn about Station F in France, the Art Fund here in the UK and also NEOM in Tabuk and Ithraa in Dhahran. I have a student who is moving to Saudi Arabia this year after talking to me about how the case studies we discussed when I supervised him has influenced his decision. These moments and conversations encourage me to continue my work in academia and to demystify that part of the world and encourage people to visit, to explore, and be inspired by differences. 

For the past 10 years, I’ve been collaborating with galleries, key arts and culture institutions in the UK to promote emerging and established creatives from Saudi Arabia and the MENA region to audiences here in the UK.  Surprisingly, my first encounter with Saudi contemporary art was when I stumbled upon an exhibition in Brick Lane, London in 2012. Since then I joined the gallery in London and worked with their team for many years.  It was a transformational opportunity for me to meet and learn from major art and culture supporters in the region such as the Jameel family and Saudi Aramco and understand the soft power and impact of such initiatives. These serendipitous and spontaneous encounters have taught me a lot. I have now become a patron at the V&A and other institutions here, I’ve also joined several art networks and societies. Because my mission is clear, it is to bridge between communities, increase cultural exchange and communication through my work, research, and participation in international events and networks. I have shared my research in conferences, talks and podcasts at Chatham house, Atlantic council , Arab Gulf Institute in Washington and many other progressive spaces and places across the world. 

Since 2014 I’ve been working as a Cultural Consultant delivering research, strategy and content curation to consultancies in the UK with projects in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. Vison 2030 had catapulted Saudi Arabia and its culture and art scene into something extremely fascinating, and we’ve since had tens of projects in Saudi Arabia that I was privileged to work on. Uniquely, these projects sometimes involved me for a week being in remote parts of the country between the mountains and seas of Saudi Arabia, and also included visits to the most captivating heritage sites that we have, to not only learn about them but help in shaping their future. Such rewarding work!

Alongside my work as a consultant and academic, I’m a Young Adviser at Chatham House and a member of the Next Generation Committee. I advise the Board and Senior leadership on the governance, strategic direction of the institute and on developing Chatham House’s engagement strategy. I joined them as just a member when I was 22 years old doing my Masters at SOAS, Chatham house was in a way my second university.

Looking back at my journey, and what I shared with you today, I really owe it to both countries…. and the partnerships they’ve achieved. And so, I would like to emphasise the importance of continued  agreements, cooperation, and shared vision.  Through them, we are connecting the dots between individuals, conversations, projects, ambitions and eventually their journeys.

My country enabled me and then the UK enabled me by providing an eco-system, a place that is culturally rich and diverse. I’ve had wonderful mentors here and I want to become an enabler myself and so it gives me great pleasure to share for the first time that I’m starting a cultural initiative , which will aim to further continue my contributions to promoting cultural dialogue between the East and the West.

The money side of this award will be put into an account specifically for this initiative. Exciting partnerships will be announced soon so please stay tuned.  The initiative and its team are based in London with a sister team in Saudi Arabia. It will propel me to take my work into the next level, to assemble and bring together those who wish to do the same.

Finally, I think it would not do without me thanking my family. Who have supported me in every way and taught me the culture of possibility. This is just the beginning.

Once again, my sincere thanks to Shaikh Abdulaziz and the Saudi-British Society for this award and thank you esteemed guests for being here tonight.

I thank you all from a full heart.


Past Events

Travels with Maridadi by Bizzie Frost

The talk, Travels with Maridadi took place on Thursday 25 April in which former long-time resident in Saudi Arabia, Bizzie Frost, shared her remarkable adventures travelling across the deserts and mountains of the Kingdom and its neighbours on a Harley Davidson with her husband.
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