The desert landscape of AlUla in north-west Saudi Arabia, covering 22,000 sqkm, is hosting the second edition of the site-responsive international art exhibition Desert X Al Ula. Fifteen artists explore ancient concepts of Sarab or mirage and oasis and how they have evolved over time. “AlUla engages visitors in art journeys through experiences of landscape,” notes Nora Aldabal, executive director, arts and creative industries, Royal Commission for AlUla. “It is a meeting point for those who understand that the future depends on our mutual understanding of one another.”
Meander throughout the spaces and discover and contemplate work from artists who come to the fore as thought leaders and conversation starters, and who showcase their pieces without restrictions in the open desert. British Shezad Dawood’s work explores ideas of deep time and the geo-biological relationship between the desert floor and the Red Sea through coral-like forms. Stephanie Deumer from Canada brings forth a lush underground greenhouse, and Sultan bin Fahad from Saudi Arabia creates a mud structure with mirrors on its facade mimicking the look of a mirage.
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“The desert concepts of mirage and oasis have long been tied to ideas of survival, perseverance, desire, and wealth” states Reem Fadda, curatorial advisor to Desert X AlUla 2022. “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.” This year’s free exhibition is open to all and continues the legacy of Desert X in California’s Coachella Valley, which started in 2017, and explores dreams, camouflage, fiction, dis/appearance, extraction, illusion, and myth, along with the dichotomy between the natural and manmade worlds. Neville Wakefield, co-artistic director of Desert X AlUla and artistic director of Desert X, remarks, “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, featuring works that became permanent installations – like Manal Al Dowayan’s trampolines, proved the cultural leadership role artists can offer society. Aldabal adds that such an initiative “crafts the next chapter in AlUla’s history as a cradle of artistic inspiration, transfer, and expression.”
Desert X AlUla is on until March 30.