What Saudi fashion designer Yahya al Bishri said recently on Turki al Dakhil’s television show ‘Idhaat’ made me pause and reflect for a moment. He said that his father disowned him because of the nature of his job and that it was only when he saw King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz shake his hand at the Janadriyah Festival that he accepted him again!
Al Bishri, who designed a dress for the late Princess Diana in 1988 that was inspired by his village in southern Saudi, shares the same story with many Saudi youth who have ended up clashing with their society.
My generation that grew up during a time that was ravaged by the so-called ‘awakening’ remembers how merely considering becoming a football player or artist or playwright was humiliating and embarrassing to the family. We never took part in theatre or singing or played football except in government-run schools, before they changed, since they used to provide us with a cover to liberate us from some family constraints.
The positive image of sports figures and artists was not consolidated until we saw the Saudi leadership on our television screens welcoming athletes and displaying interest in artists at the Janadriyah Festival. The problem does not lie in the youth’s choices but rather in the repression of such choices by virtue of internal social reasons – then the youth are required to work in jobs that they have become accustomed to their society rejecting.
Those familiar with the nature of Saudi society would know that much of the decisions related to progress are not social initiatives but political decisions – even when it comes to women’s education. There are many young people around us whose talents are squandered as a result of short-sighted vision. Al Bishri once said, “It was a hardship that endured for many long years, it was difficult with my society and with my family.”
A French proverb says, “There is no bad profession but there are bad people,” and unless we can become aware of this in our Gulf societies, especially in Saudi, we will end up depriving ourselves and our economy of opportunities that could enable us to excel in every field, and most importantly in innovation.
I heard Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz once say, “I will not tire of repeating the stories of men who have become successful after starting out working on vegetable markets or as office boys in governmental institutions and who have now become ministers and businessmen. These stories inspire and motivate the youth and prove to them that work in any field is not shameful.”
My conviction is that a young man or woman who bears his/her country’s name in the world of fashion is much better than those who implicate it in a dishonorable act. Fashion, sports and the arts in general have become economies and are deemed innovative work, and thus there is no harm in young men choosing the profession that they love and which can guarantee them a dignified life.
It is up to governments, and the Saudi government in particular, to continue their support of creative people, innovators and anyone who is related to the arts. Any society that is devoid of art is lifeless and unproductive. If our predecessors had not displayed interest in all of life’s activities, despite the harshness of some of them; we would never have had a history that is rich in cultural diversity, food, clothing and construction as we have in Saudi Arabia.
I firmly believe that those who are spearheading progress in the kingdom are the politicians; this is why we hope that the Saudi decision-makers can support talent since their patronage, recognition and their endorsement of it in educational institutions would propel it into the social arena.