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AlUla’s Wadi AlFann Will Be Home to 5 Permanent Installations By International and Saudi Artists

Render of Ashab Al-Lal by Ahmed Mater at Wadi AlFann. Photo: Courtesy of of Athr Gallery

Continuing to expand the cultural and artistic landscape of Saudi Arabia, The Royal Commission of AlUla (RCU), led by chairman HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud has announced the plans for Wadi AlFann, meaning ‘Valley of the Arts’, and has announced five international artists who will commence on projects relating to large-scale installations.

The cultural hub in the Kingdom will permanently display installations by three international artists, US artists James Turrell, Agnes Denes, and Michael Heizer, and two Saudi artists, Manal AlDowayan and Ahmed Mater. The site’s large-scale commissions will be overseen by Ywona Blaswick, former director of the Whitechapel Gallery in London, in her new role as Chair of AlUla’s Royal Commission on Public Art.

All the artworks will be showcased on a plot of 65 sqkm and are expected to be submitted by 2024. The artist’s works are expected to be distinctive and intriguing, with physician-turned-artist Mater’s installation for the valley, named ‘Ashab Al-Lal’, aiming to give visitors an optical illusion of seeing a mirage using a subterranean tunnel and mirrors. AlDowayan’s work will display a coiled, maze-like structure inspired by the mud homes of AlUla’s ancient old town, and is named ‘The Oasis of Stories’.

Sketches for The Oasis of Stories by Manal AlDowayan, for Wadi AlFann Photo: Courtesy of of Athr Gallery

Veteran artist Denes’ work will exhibit a sequence of ascending pointed pyramids in an attempt to explore civilization, advancement, and achievement. Meanwhile, Heizer, who is renowned for his work with earthly elements such as rock, concrete, and steel and for producing large outdoor earthwork sculptures will create lineal engravings in the sandstone rock pertaining directly to the geology of the area and sundry characteristics of the Quweira sandstone. Lastly, visitors can get a sensorial experience of space, color, and perception through Turrell’s work, via a series of tunnels and stairs housed within the canyon floor.

The unveiling of the five artworks will be accompanied by a dynamic, engaging public program that will include performances and tours through the valley. The commissions at Wadi AlFann have also partnered up with Madrasat AdDeera, and will offer educational opportunities for local communities, including practical, skills-based engagement in the process of conceiving and installing the artworks, sessions with art professionals to develop skills, and masterclasses for local creatives.

The goal of the exhibition is to commission around 20 to 25 permanent artworks over the course of 10 years. The new project will provide a counterpoint to Desert X AlUla, which has been presenting temporary artworks at the same location since 2020. “Wadi AlFann is unprecedented in its ambition,” Blazwick said in a statement. “It will set a new global example for experiencing art in dialogue with nature, celebrating the human creativity that unites communities across the world and inspiring current and future generations of artists. A display of such epic scale, set in a terrain as monumental as the AlUla desert, has the potential to shape the course of art history in real time.”

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