Desert X Al Ula, the first site-responsive art exhibition of its kind in Saudi Arabia, welcomed over 9,000 visitors across its five-week run from January 31 to March 7.
Organised collaboratively by Desert X and the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), Desert X AlUla fostered cross-cultural dialogue, creating exchange among artists, curators and the international and local community.
Free and open to the public, Desert X AlUla was co-curated by Saudi curators Raneem Farsi and Aya Alireza with Desert X artistic director Neville Wakefield and activated unique desert landscapes of AlUla through installations by Lita Albuquerque, Manal AlDowayan, Zahrah AlGhamdi, Nasser AlSalem, Rashed AlShashai, Gisela Colon, Sherin Guirguis, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, Nadim Karam, eL Seed, Wael Shawky, Muhannad Shono, Superflex and Rayyane Tabet.
As custodians of AlUla, its people are central to, and beneficiaries of AlUla’s emerging cultural programme. Engagement with local communities at Desert X AlUla included the participation of a group of women weavers, Lines and Colours, in Sherin Guirguis’ installation. In collaboration with Guirguis,
The group created a “tracing” of the inner ring of the artist’s Kholkhal Aliaa sculpture in Sadou, the traditional tent weaving technique. Similarly, Wael Shawky’s mud house was inverted with a Bedouin-style tent on top of its roof rather than the ground, made in collaboration with local artisans. Artist-run workshops organised by Sherin Guirguis, Manal AlDowayan and Zahrah AlGhamdi brought local women artists to the exhibition site to preview the work and discuss how to find your voice as an artist, build a commission proposal and develop an idea for a work.
The exhibition’s school and university programmes brought together 200 students from the AlUla county to participate in on-site educational workshops led by Saudi artists Dalia Bakhurji and Abdelrahmen AlShahed, focused around sculpture making using wire and contemporary calligraphy.
Newly released Desert X AlUla podcast series gives voice to participating artists from Saudi Arabia, the neighbouring region, Europe and the US.
The Desert X AlUla podcast series provides a global platform for the
voices of featured artists and carries forth the discussion and exchange fostered throughout the exhibition. The podcast series features co-curators Wakefield, Farsi and Alireza in conversation with participating artists about their experience of responding to the landscape and why they welcomed this collaboration.
Lita Albuquerque, among the artists featured in the podcast series, commented: “I think what we’re doing here is about art and it’s not about retreating, but it’s about making a statement to actually open up conversation, open up the doors. That goes beyond politics.”
Artist Muhannad Shono said: “The change happening in Saudi Arabia is incredible. We have all these young people... who have been developing their skills and ideas. For them to be coming out of the shadows and being respected and given opportunities across the country and internationally, is extremely humbling.”
The large-scale site-specific works by 14 participating artists have inspired new dialogue about the desert and themes that range from the passage of goods and ideas along the ancient incense route, the cultural memory that passage has left, and the natural resources that have shaped the region, both past and present.
The series of eight podcast episodes is free to download at www.desertx.org/podcast/alula and on iTunes and other podcast apps. - TradeArabia News Service