Rapper Kanye West with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud

The facade of the Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh, was lit up in neon Friday night for a press conference with the Saudi Tourism Authority. A representative of the Ministry of Tourism announced the kingdom’s inaugural Freedom of Expression Art Prize, presented in partnership with banking giant HSBC and pizza restaurant chain Papa John’s, which is set to open its eighth location in the country — its first in the oasis city of Al-’Ula — this summer. 

The prize awards one artist 3,753,760 Saudi Riyal (about $1 million). There are no restrictions on how the artist may spend the money, except that under no circumstances can they use it to criticize Saudi Arabia. The Freedom of Expression Art Prize also includes a meet-and-greet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud and a formal state banquet in honor of the winner. Following dinner, they will be treated to a private Beyoncé concert. Artists with fewer than one million Instagram followers are not encouraged to apply.

“We realize Saudi Arabia has a branding problem,” a spokesman for the Saudi Tourism Authority told Hyperallergic. “While we have an unfortunate reputation as a regime that commits some of the worst human rights violations on earth, we want the kingdom to be seen as an international destination for art and culture.”

Kanye West, Roman Polanski, and Carl Andre are among the artists shortlisted for the prize.

“Honoring such accomplished artists would help us send a message to the world that KSA has entered a new modern age for luxury tourists and businesspeople,” said the spokesman. 

Editor’s Note, 4/1/2023: We misunderstood an aspect of the prize — the winner will be allowed to sit in on a five-minute Zoom with Beyoncé, not attend a private concert. We regret the error.

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