Media collective teamLab is pushing ahead with plans for a new digital art museum in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the latest stage in the government’s cultural offensive to rebrand the Middle Eastern state and soften its ultra-conservative image. “The brand new teamLab Borderless Jeddah is being built on the shores of Al-Arbaeen Lagoon overlooking the scenic views of the Unesco World Heritage Site [historic Jeddah]says a project brief. The inauguration ceremony of the site took place in the presence of the founder of teamLab, Toshiyuki Inoko, and Hamed bin Mohammed Fayez, Saudi Deputy Minister of Culture.
“The immersive museum will include more than 50 works spread across its vast labyrinthine spaces, including World without borders, athletics forest and park of the future,“, add the organizers. A new teamLab facility will also be unveiled at the new venue. “The museum is currently under construction and is expected to open in the next few years. We should know the opening year within a month or two,” says a teamLab spokesperson.
Tokyo-based tech group teamLab, known for producing crowd-pleasing immersive experiences awash with waterfalls and virtual flowers, has struck a ten-year deal with Saudi Arabia’s culture ministry to develop works for the planned museum. Plans were first announced in late 2020. teamLab is co-represented by Pace Gallery.
teamLab Borderless Jeddah is part of a process of promoting the cultural references of Saudi Arabia, helping to diversify the economy and give a more “open” image of the country, in accordance with the government’s Vision 2030 plan. The new museum follows other cultural projects such as the Desert X sculpture exhibition which opened its second edition in the AlUla region of northwestern Saudi Arabia earlier this year.
However, free speech organizations continue to criticize Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Last month, the mass execution of 81 people signaled “an appalling escalation in Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty”, according to Amnesty International. Forty-one of those executed were from Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority, “the latest manifestation of Saudi Arabia’s politicized use of the death penalty to silence dissent in the Eastern Province”, adds Amnesty.