Desert X AlUla took place January 31—March 7, 2020. The site-responsive installation was co-curated by Raneem Farsi, Aya Alireza, and Neville Wakefield in partnership with the Royal Commission of AlUla (RCU). Set in a desert oasis of Saudi Arabia, it featured the work of Lita Albuquerque, Manal AlDowayan, Zahrah AlGhamdi, Nasser AlSalem, Rashed AlShashai, Gisela Colon, Sherin Guirguis, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, Nadim Karam, eL Seed, Wael Shawky, Muhannad Shono, Superflex, and Rayyane Tabet.
The project—which just announced the launch of podcast series for ongoing digital engagement—was visited by over 9,000 people, including Rodolphe Nantas, the Head of Men’s at The Webster. Below, the DJ/Producer (DJ SMLXL) and co-founder of upcycled clothing line called Ensemble, shares his experience and personal photographs.
“I’ve always been a fan of in situ, outdoor works and am passionate about the desert. I attended the past two editions of Desert X in California and met with Neville Wakefield in New York last year when we worked on a special installation by Tavares Strachan at The Webster during Frieze. He mentioned off-hand about Saudi Arabia, and at the time, I thought it was just an idea. I later saw this was a confirmed project and absolutely wanted to make the trip as soon as I saw pictures of the site.
Even though there was tension and controversy around the big winter festival, going after influencers who got invited to post pictures on Instagram to promote tourism there, I wanted to see it for myself and form my own opinion. All I have to say is that I was welcomed warmly, enjoyed great food, and took in magnificent landscapes (and full transparency, my trip wasn’t sponsored).
As I’ve been traveling a lot, this was definitely something quite unusual. Desert X and other special events happening are indeed government funded, but I believe it’s a great way to help local artists—and locals in general—to open up to the world.”