Articles

Faisal bin Abdulaziz: 1919 — a life-changing journey

Faisal bin Abdulaziz: 1919 — a life-changing journey

Barker Langham has worked with the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS) to bring ‘Faisal: A Life at the Heart of the 20th Century’ to London on 20th December. Fergus Reoch, one of the project curators, reveals the background to the exhibition.

• What is the exhibition about?
‘Faisal: A Life at the Heart of the 20th Century’ tells the story of King Faisal of Saudi Arabia’s journey to Europe in 1919, when he was only 13 years old. It reflects on how that trip influenced the rest of his life. Faisal went on to spend his life at the forefront of international affairs, leading his country through a challenging and complex period.

• What did King Faisal do on his tour?
Faisal came to Europe to represent his father, Abdulaziz, the ruler of Najd — the central Arabian principality that later expanded to become Saudi Arabia.

In London, Faisal met with King George V and with government ministers. He toured civic and industrial sites in Britain and Ireland — his first experience of an industrialised country. In France and Belgium, he visited the battlefields of the recent First World War, and, in Paris, his advisors took part in important diplomatic meetings.

• What is the most unusual thing that happened to Faisal on the trip?
During Faisal’s voyage, one of his fellow passengers painted his portrait. As she studied his features, she realised he was ill. Faisal was swiftly diagnosed with malaria and given quinine which saved the young prince’s life.

• What are the highlights of the exhibition?
Highlights include hand-written letters from Faisal before and during his journey; personal items such as his shaving kit; and the three films, created for this exhibition, which show original footage of Faisal in London in 1919 along with poignant interviews with his children and grandchildren, and his biographer, Dr Joseph Kéchichian. My own favourite object is the calligraphic family tree that explores the history of Faisal’s family. As well as being a beautiful work of art, it is a fascinating work of scholarship.

• Who has organised this exhibition?
This exhibition is the latest touring exhibition organised by the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS). The KFCRIS mission is to encourage the exchange of knowledge between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world, and the Center works to expand the scope of research on the role played by Muslim societies in the humanities, social sciences, and the arts. We are delighted to be taking part in this mission by working with KFCRIS on this exhibition.

• What has Barker Langham’s role been?
Barker Langham has worked closely with KFCRIS on this project throughout 2019. In consultation with the KFCRIS steering committee, Barker Langham developed the narrative and all content for the exhibition, commissioning and directing 4D Projects who have realised the exhibition through design and production, and Fly Studio who produced the films.

Through meticulous research, curation, scriptwriting, exhibition design and audio-visual development, KFCRIS and Barker Langham have brought Faisal’s momentous 1919 trip to life. We have thoroughly enjoyed developing and delivering this exhibition, and cannot wait to share it with audiences in London and beyond.

Faisal: A Life at the Heart of the 20th Century
20th December, 116 Pall Mall

Entry to this exhibition is free of charge