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Desert X AlUla 2024 by Kimsooja

The Third Edition of Desert X AlUla Unveils the Unseen

This year’s powerful iteration of Desert X AlUla, “In the Presence of Absence,” opens to the public this week, celebrating the vivacious Saudi Arabian art landscape for the global creative community. Works by artists like Sara Alissa, Kimsooja, Calina Aoun, Bosco Sodi, Giuseppe Penone, and more engage anew with the UNESCO World Heritage site.

Erica Silverman

8 February 2024

On February 9 in Saudi Arabia, Desert X AlUla debuts its third edition within the spirited ancient desert landscape, on view to the public through March 23. Presented by the partnership of Desert X and the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), this year’s powerful iteration, titled “In the Presence of Absence,” welcomes back artistic directors Raneem Farsi and Neville Wakefield, while introducing new curators Maya El Khalil and Marcello Dantas.

On the occasion of the AlUla Arts Festival, taking place February 9 to March 2, and its overarching theme of “More than meets the Eye,” Desert X AlUla 2024 offers a rich investigation of the seemingly invisible. Enlivened with the opportunity to explore the historical and environmental nuances of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, artists including Sara Alissa (Saudi Arabia), Bosco Sodi (Mexico), Caline Aoun (Lebanon), Giuseppe Penone (Italy), Kimsooja (South Korea), Karola Braga (Brazil), Rand Abdul Jabbar (Iraq), and Aseel AlYaqoub (Kuwait) unveil 15 transcendent artworks.

Desert X AlUla 2024 by Rand Abdul Jabbar

Installation view of Rand Abdul Jabbar’s “Where myths are born of mud and desire,” photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of The Royal Commission for AlUla.

Desert X AlUla 2024 Spans Three Locations

The experiential presentation spans three locations this year: Wadi AlFann, Harrat Uwayrid, and AlManshiyah Plaza, inviting visitors to journey through a stunning array of historical and natural treasures, from lustrous desert to tactile black lava stone contours.

Alongside the meditative artworks, both Desert X AlUla and AlUla Arts Festival offer a meticulously curated program of artist residencies, workshops, screenings, conversations, and musical performances, further celebrating the vivacious Saudi Arabian art landscape for the global creative community.

“The desert, often perceived as a place of emptiness, gradually unveils its intricate layers of existence as one immerses in it,” explained Dantas. “Desert X AlUla invites artists to create original works with a unique canvas on an unprecedented scale.”

“As visitors explore Desert X AlUla, they’ll discover that in times of uncertainty, when the tangible is elusive, nothing is more real than the presence of the invisible. We invite visitors to encounter the limitless boundaries of imagination and discover the profound forces that silently shape our world.”

Desert X AlUla 2024 by Bosco Sodi

Installation view of Bosco Soda’s artwork, photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of The Royal Commission for AlUla.

Curators Maya El Khalil and Marcello Dantas Inspire Artists to Revere the Unseen

“The region of AlUla is monumental,” said El Khalil. “Formed of inconceivable spans of time and space, the urge is to meet it with imitations of similar size and impact. But the reality is, human efforts struggle to match the grandeur sculpted here. We challenged the artists participating in Desert X AlUla 2024 to adjust their perspective to encounter the unseen aspects of the place with reverence, attuning to the forces, rhythms and processes that shape the landscape in imperceptible ways.”

“In response to this, the artists have developed innovative and dynamic works that address profound topics such as trade, migration and time that are relevant to the region and connect with the wider world.”

Desert X AlUla 2024 by Ibrahim Mahama

Installation view of Ibrahim Mahama’s artwork, photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of The Royal Commission for AlUla.

Ethereal Installations and Sculptures Spark Dialogue in the UNESCO World Heritage Site

Where myths are born of mud and desire is the poetic title of Jabbar’s ethereal installation, in which five sleek, curvaceous sculptures ebb and flow to the tale of Venus within a vast mountain alcove. Sodi’s gilded volcanic treasures rest within the intimate dark spaces peppered across towering rock formations, imparting sentiments of peaceful interlude making way for passionate longing.

To Breathe – AlUla, by Kimsooja, is a concentrated, prismatic spiral, harnessing glorious desert light which in turn distills a celestial atmosphere through a translucent surface. Ibrahim Mahama (Ghana) brings the robust beauty of terracotta pots to all three sites; Dung Bara – The Rider Does No at Wadi AlFann, Gabli Din Pali – A Full Gourd Does Not Rattle; It Is Only a Partially Filled Gourd Which Rattles at Harrat Uwayrid, and Hanging Garden at AlManshiyah Plaza pay homage to history’s artifacts as inspiration for a promising future.

Desert X AlUla 2024 by Aseel AlYaquob

Installation view of Aseel AlYaquob’s “Weird Life: An ode to desert varnish,” photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of The Royal Commission for AlUla.

AlYaqoub’s sensorial artwork Weird Life: An ode to desert varnish, probes the mesmeric gloss that naturally washes over the landscape’s ridges that has been studied by scientists for hundreds of years. Artist Monira Al Qadiri (Kuwait) delves into the elusive case of unidentified objects that called the desert home in the 1930s; titled W.A.B.A.R., rounded onyx sculptures embellished with a multidimensional surface invokes a folk tale where earth-bound humanity meets celestial divinity.

Visionary creative Tino Sehgal collaborates with Desert X AlUla for the first time with (un titled), an exceptional commission that speaks to humans’ footprint in the organic desert vista, intermeshing dynamic sound and movement to deeply challenge our senses and perceptions.

Desert X AlUla 2024 by Kimsooja

Installation view of Kimsooja, “To Breathe – AlUla,” photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of The Royal Commission for AlUla.

SAME AS TODAY

FURTHER READING

Desert X AlUla Explores Mirage and Oases in the Al Mutadil Valley

Earlier this month in Saudi Arabia, the second edition of Desert X AlUla opened in time with the debut of the AlUla Arts festival.

Neville Wakefield on How the Landscape Gave Rise to the Works of Desert X AlUla

Whitewall spoke with Neville Wakefield about this year’s edition of Desert X AlUla.

Sultan Bin Fahad Builds a Key to Civilization in the Desert

Whitewall interview of Saudi Arabian artist Sultan Bin Fahad on his installation "Desert Kite" at Desert X AlUla.

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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.
Whitewall spoke with Neville Wakefield about this year’s edition of Desert X AlUla.
Whitewall interview of Saudi Arabian artist Sultan Bin Fahad on his installation "Desert Kite" at Desert X AlUla.

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