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Currently on view at the second edition of Desert X AlUla is the interactive structure, Desert Kite, created by Saudi Arabian artist Sultan bin Fahad. Conceptualized by the artist, and built with the helping hands of AlUla's local community, the illusory open-air project beckons guests into its womb, allowing for treasured moments of simple rest and reflection amid the sensory-filled desert.
The grand, key-shaped piece takes the form of a desert kite — an ancient construction used to herd animals. Long adobe brick and mud walls converge and open into a circular meditation space, housing an urn decorated with four types of honorary animals also seen on the nearby Nabatean tombs.
Bin Fahad arrived at the site with a well-established passion and respect for AlUla. Once there, he put his thoughtful practice for reinterpreting and reimagining Saudi’s rich history and culture to work. He finds magical moments in hidden spaces, and Desert Kite is no exception. Whitewall had the opportunity during the opening of Desert X AlUla to speak with the artist about creating from the ground up.
WHITEWALL: What were your expectations as you designed this project?
SULTAN BIN FAHAD: It looks simple but it has a lot of elements. There are so many functions and surprises. I did not expect the silence and the tranquility that you get when sitting in the meditating room. It is very interesting to start listening to the silence. You hear the birds, the wind — it’s inviting. It was intentional to have this room but it was not intentional to have this feeling which turned out to be amazing.
WW: What was your first intention?
SBF: The first intention is to sit and meditate; isolate yourself visually. You start looking at the sky and how this animal trap, or kite, will attract nature into you. This was the intention — to frame the sky and isolate you from the surrounding in terms of the canyons and the sand. To meditate not religiously or spiritually is just to sit with yourself, be able to gather your thoughts, and isolate yourself from what’s happening around you.
Coming into beautiful AlUla, you can’t help but look at everything; it’s like a museum. To make it simple, to isolate yourself from the surroundings of AlUla you almost forget where you are.
WW: Do you meditate often?
SBF: I don’t. I am Muslim so I meditate while praying.
WW: After this experimentation would you like to change this?
SBF: If I had a space like this in my home I probably would. It’s a great place to help you focus, unwind, and energize.
WW: How did your first visit to AlUla inspire Desert Kite?
SBF: My first visit was 8-9 years ago. Coming to AlUla is a magical place so it’s not really hard to get inspired. In choosing the specific location where the kite is, the actual location looks like a kite — it is the end of the canyon and enclosed. I believe this is where the intention was for the herd, the animals, to go in to be captured.
WW: What is a desert kite and why is it significant to AlUla?
SBF: Desert kites are prehistoric structures that are around the whole northwest of Arabia. I wanted something to look like it’s always been there, to fit in with the environment. It’s done from the community, to the community, from the material of the actual space that the piece is in. There is no desert kite in AlUla. The link is that the creatures on the urn are from AlUla. You can see them on the [Nabatean] tombs: the medusa, the eagle, the sphinx and the lion.
WW: How should visitors interact with the piece?
SBF: Come in and think of whatever you want. The first ten seconds, whatever you feel or think — that is the intention. Some told me that it’s a key to civilization because it looks like a keyhole; it was not intentional but it’s true. This area is the cradle of civilization. As we all know, art is subjective and this is the beauty of it.
WW: Can you tell us about your material choice?
SBF: I wanted something from nature. The desert kite structures in Europe and Asia are made out of stone. Since I am not replicating, I wanted to do something from the actual land of AlUla. The material that is used in the desert, that all Arabia ancientally until today is still using, is super adobe. It is mud bricks and we add hay to it to keep it filtered and absorb the humidity which keeps it cold. The urn is made out of fiberglass because the fiberglass can live for hundreds of years.
WW: What kinds of symbols and designs are found on the urn?
SBF: There are the four creatures: the eagle, the lion, the sphinx, and the medusa. In the structure itself, the symbol is the kite that looks like a keyhole, and you can see the community effort by seeing all the fingerprints — I call it their signature.
WW: What can you tell us about the vessel in the center?
SBF: It is an urn that has a cover and a spire. The urn looks like a womb that holds all those creatures — whether they are captured or being born again. The spire on top, that has a green shimmer effect, is sticking out of the kite and is the trap that lures the animal or the visitor.
WW: How did you want the final piece to engage with the landscape?
SBF: I wanted it to blend in with the landscape as if it's a mirage. You see that spike that invites you or you don’t actually see it. It’s blending in. That’s the whole idea of being a trap.
WW: Did you explore anything new with the project?
SBF: I learned how there are other options of building with adobe. There is the sandbag technique and there is the sandbrick technique. I discovered there are so many other techniques using soil and different materials.
WW: What is the next opportunity?
SBF: I actually want to take a rest because I had three major participations, with two months in between each of them. They were huge and I think I need to take time off.