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Entwistle, Maia Holtermann (2022) Fuelling Culture: Art, Race, and Capitalism on the Arabian Peninsula. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis is about how racial capitalism and empire have enabled the creation of the Gulf’s cultural infrastructure, which includes Saadiyat Cultural District, Art Dubai, and Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art. Some studies of high culture have illustrated how museum collections are rooted in colonial plunder and ordered by colonial epistemologies. Others have examined the effects of neoliberalisation on contemporary art, showing how capitalism eventually assimilates even counter-hegemonic art. Drawing on ethnographic and interview material collected among cultural milieus in the United Arab Emirates, New York, and London, this thesis intervenes in, and bridges, these two research strands. Carbon-based financial interdependence between the Gulf and the West is the visible afterlife of colonialism in the region. I argue that these asymmetrical circuits of capital accumulation underpin the new cultural ecology. The theory of racial capitalism emphasises that racialisations are central to the functioning of the world economy, resolving the contradictions inherent in liberal institution-building under the profoundly hierarchical conditions of global markets. Working with these insights, I show how orientalist imaginings of the Gulf contributed to the opening of its art market, and how white epistemologies have legitimised this enterprise and its violent effects. I examine how these cultural infrastructures form part of the Gulf states’ post-oil vision, elucidating how their built environments attempt to manage difference by turning the unruly multiplicity of urban space into homogenous and marketable identities. Bringing these together I argue that, despite centring decolonial aesthetics, the Gulf’s cultural infrastructure contributes forcefully to colonialism. Its institutions enshrine the Gulf’s colonial relations with subaltern subjects from the postcolonies on its peripheries and demonstrate the persistence of a racial calculus that prioritises whiteness. This infrastructure thus underscores that, rather than provincialise Europe, postcolonialism must stretch its concepts to the changing constellation of power precipitated by maturing capitalist processes.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Laleh Khalili and Rahul Rao
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 27 May 2022 09:31
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council

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