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Earlier this month in Saudi Arabia, the second edition of Desert X AlUla opened in time with the debut of the AlUla Arts festival. Presented in a collaboration between Desert X and the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), this iteration of the open-air presentation (on view through March 30) employs the vast desert landscape as an exhibition space, inviting 15 international artists to activate the land with works exploring ideas of mirage and oases.
Encompassed in the theme “Sarab,” Curatorial Advisor Reem Fadda and Co-Artistic Directors Raneem Farsi and Neville Wakefield invited artists to respond to their observations of the natural surroundings in the Al Mutadil Valley. Viewers will find artists hailing from Saudi Arabia and beyond, including the work of Alicja Kwade, Shadia Alem, Dana Awartani, Monika Sosnowska, Sultan bin Fahad, Jim Denevan, Claudia Comte, Serge Attukwei Clottey, Shezad Dawood, Abdullah AlOthman, Khalil Rabah, Shaikha Al Mazrou, Stephanie Deumer, Zeinab Alhashemi, and Ayman Zedani.
“The desert concepts of mirage and oasis have long been tied to ideas of survival, perseverance, desire and wealth. The oasis pertains to ideas of finding prosperity or heaven, while the mirage is a universal symbol of the mysteries of imagination and reality,” said Fadda. “Under the theme of ‘Sarab’, the artists presented in the exhibition—all of whom have spent time in the AlUla region—have developed ambitious and strikingly innovative, site-specific responses, all of which address profound issues, that emerge from the local context but also resonate with audiences the world-over.”
Situated within the historic Nabataean settlement of Hegra—now a UNESCO World Heritage Site—Desert X AlUla leads viewers through a thought-provoking landscape of rock formations, hills of rust-hued sand, and the occasional spotting of Nabataean rock art. Seeming to become part of the land itself are works like AlOthman’s silvery mirage-reminiscent Geography of Hope, Zedani’s lone tree, The Valley of Desert Keepers, and Clottey’s latest exploration of his Afrogallonism concept, which here sees a waterfall of the yellow plastic pieces cascading down a mountain of rock. There are also dizzying stripes of Comte’s Dark Suns, Bright Waves, an illusory construction of mirrors by Kwade titled In Blur, Denevan’s precise mounds of earth called Angle of Repose,and Awartani’s geometric sculptural wall Where The Dwellers Lay to discover, along with many other immersive, spellbinding installations.
“As a powerful form of self-expression, art has the power to transform societies, cities, and perspectives. Everyone is hungry for the best in contemporary art —and Desert X AlUla is feeding that appetite in an unprecedented way,” said Farsi. “Having worked for many years on the development and representation of the Saudi art scene, I can see that today Saudi artists are getting more attention and opportunities than ever before, both locally and internationally. Desert X AlUla plays a very important part in a vast wave of art and culture initiatives that is shaping the ecosystem for creativity in Saudi Arabia.”