ALULA — Free and open to all, Desert X AlUla is a recurring, site-responsive, international art exhibition taking place in AlUla, a globally significant ancient desert region in the Arabian Peninsula. This year’s exhibition, under the curatorial vision of Reem Fadda, Raneem Farsi and Neville Wakefield, features newly commissioned works by artists bringing a plurality of voices from around the world.
Following its inaugural exhibition in 2020, Desert X AlUla returns for its second edition from Feb. 11 – March 30, 2022, placing visionary contemporary artworks by Saudi and international artists amidst the extraordinary desert landscape of AlUla, a majestic region in north-west Saudi Arabia of natural and creative heritage steeped in a legacy of cross-cultural exchange.
Under the theme of Sarab, this year’s exhibition explores ideas of mirage and oasis, both intrinsic to desert history and culture, that have taken on complex worldwide significance over time. Invited to consider these ancient concepts, participating artists have responded with new works that address dreams, camouflage, fiction, disappearance, extraction, illusion and myth, while also examining the dichotomy between the natural and man-made worlds.
Desert X AlUla is a collaboration between Desert X and the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) established to advance new cultural dialogue through art. The first site-responsive exhibition of its kind in Saudi Arabia, it fosters dialogue and exchange between artists, curators and international and local communities, shaped by a curatorial vision that takes the desert as its inspiration. Building on the legacy of Desert X, which takes place in California’s Coachella Valley, Desert X AlUla draws on principles of land art, offering a profound opportunity to experience art on a monumental scale in dialogue with nature.
The upcoming exhibition will take place in a different location in AlUla to the previous edition, situated within a valley that invites visitors to wander through and experience spectacular landscapes as they weave their journey between the works.
Desert X AlUla aims to contribute to and continue the artistic heritage of the local community and region: works from the 2020 edition by Lita Albuquerque, Manal AlDowayan, Sherin Guirguis, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, Nadim Karam and Superflex remain in place in AlUla for public view, while Rashed AlShashai and Muhannad Shono are currently working as part of AlUla’s first art residency program, an 11-week program until Jan. 14, 2022.
Likewise, the ongoing collaboration provides an international platform for Saudi artists: Zahrah Alghamdi, whose work Glimpses of the Past was presented in the inaugural Desert X AlUla, went on to exhibit her work What Lies Behind the Walls to critical acclaim at Desert X 2021 in California.
Home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra, built by the Nabataeans over 2,000 years ago, the AlUla region has been at the crossroads of cultural exchange for millennia, historically lying on the incense trade route and once capital to the ancient Kingdom of Dadan. Today, it is a living museum of heritage, arts and nature, rekindling its legacy as a vital cultural destination. By reimagining the boundaries of creativity and ingenuity, AlUla aims to share the transformative power of the arts through the prism of AlUla’s legacies, character and ambition.
As part of AlUla’s wide-ranging local community engagement and education program that aims to develop a vibrant, new cultural economy, Desert X AlUla 2022 will include art mediator training programs, family events, workshops for teachers and other networking and programming activities for visitors and communities.
Desert X AlUla takes place as a highlight of AlUla Arts Festival, which also includes ‘What Lies Within: Works from the Basma AlSulaiman Collection’, an exhibition at Maraya of seminal works by contemporary Saudi artists, exhibited for the first time in Saudi Arabia. This exhibition, curated by artist Lulwah AlHomoud, marks the first in a series of shows in AlUla featuring pioneering collectors and patrons.
During the festival, Al Jaddidah, an area adjacent to AlUla Old Town, will be a vibrant hub of activity and performances, with the outdoor Cinema El Housh presenting Saudi arthouse filmmakers. As detailed in AlUla’s ‘Journey Through Time’ masterplan, AlUla Old Town adjoined by the Cultural Oasis will develop into one of five districts and serve as a nexus of community, cultural production and artistic explorations.
Artists participating in Desert X AlUla will be announced in January 2022.
Reem Fadda, curatorial advisor to Desert X AlUla 2022, said, “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. They also connote the incomprehensible beauty and abundance of nature in its most bereft state — the desert — and humans’ obsessive desire to capture and control it.
“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.”
Neville Wakefield, co-artistic director of Desert X AlUla, said, “AlUla has always been at the crossroads of trade and culture. Its landscape and history have and continue to draw people from across the globe. In captivating the imagination of artists and travelers alike, AlUla presents itself as the perfect site for an exhibition that explores the idea of the desert as a place of cultural interaction, dialogue and exchange.
“The first edition of Desert X AlUla in 2020 proved how much there is for artists and audiences from different parts of the world to learn from one another. Artists are often leaders in these conversations and so it is particularly exciting for Desert X AlUla to have such a significant role in the region’s many programs of cultural transformation.”
Nora Aldabal, arts and creative planning director at Royal Commission for AlUla said, “AlUla values arts and creativity as essential and transformative layers for enriching society, economy and quality of life. By 2035, AlUla will be home to 15 landmark destinations for culture, heritage and creativity, each designed in careful dialogue with the region ́s unique natural landscape, including museums, galleries, research centers and arts districts.
“The heritage, legacy and character of AlUla must be protected and preserved; with initiatives like Desert X AlUla, we are crafting the next chapter in AlUla’s history as a cradle of artistic inspiration, transfer and expression.”
Raneem Farsi, co-artistic director of Desert X AlUla, said, “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.
“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.” —