Desert X AlUla World Art Exhibition Explores Ideas of Mirage and Oasis

Elephant Rock at Desert X AlUla.

Mohammad Yusuf, Feature Writer

The second edition of the international art exhibition Desert X Alula (from February 11 to March 30) presents 15 artists who explore the ideas of mirage and oasis under the theme Sarab.

Desert X AlUla is a recurring, site-specific international art exhibition taking place in AlUla, a former desert region of global significance in the Arabian Peninsula, northwest Saudi Arabia. It is home to a natural and creative heritage, steeped in a legacy of intercultural exchange.

This year’s exhibition, curatorially curated by Reem Fadda, Raneem Farsi and Neville Wakefield and free and open to all, features newly commissioned works. The artists, Saudi and international, bring a plurality of voices from around the world.


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Sarab’s theme is intrinsic to the history and culture of the desert. It has taken on complex global significance over time. Asked to consider these ancient concepts, participating artists responded with works that deal with dreams, camouflage, fiction, disappearance, extraction, illusion and myth, while 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), created to advance a new cultural dialogue through art.

nora 44 Nora Aldabal, Director of Arts and Creative Planning at the AlUla Royal Commission.

The first site-specific exhibition of its kind in Saudi Arabia, it promotes dialogue and exchange between artists, curators, and international and local communities, shaped by a curatorial vision inspired by the desert.

Building on the legacy of Desert X, which is set in California’s Coachella Valley, Desert X AlUla is inspired by the principles of land art, offering an opportunity to experience art on a monumental scale in dialogue with the nature.

The next exhibition will take place in a different location in AlUla from the previous edition, located in a valley that invites visitors to walk and discover spectacular landscapes, while weaving their journey between the works.

Shadia Alem’s sculptural installation adapts the art of origami, applying basic principles of geometry and beauty to create shapes that reference Arabian desert literature, mathematics and mythology .

Dana Awartani’s sculpture is inspired by the vernacular architecture of AlUla, taking the form of a concave geometric sculpture that references Nabataean tombs and mimics the shapes of surrounding mountains, gorges, caverns and rock formations.

rock 1 Neville Wakefield in AlUla.

Serge Attukwei Clottey’s installation addresses the experience of globalization, migration and water equity, by wrapping slabs of rock in meticulously crafted tapestries from gallons of yellow kufuor, which are containers made of plastic used in Ghana to store and transport water.

Claudia Comte’s work presents a progression of walls, imposing their architectural presence in the natural order of the canyons of AlUla.

Shezad Dawood’s work explores ideas of deep time and the geobiological relationship between the desert floor and the nearby Red Sea through a pair of coral forms.

Land-based artist Jim Denevan creates ephemeral designs whose interlocking patterns testify to the shifts in scope and scale that so often shape the experience of the desert.

Working at the intersection of nature and technology, Stephanie Deumer created an underground greenhouse; it alludes to the lush sanctuary of native plants below.

Sultan Bin Fahad’s mud structure is shaped like a desert kite, with mirrors on the facade that create the appearance of a mirage, and houses an urn-like sculpture in relief with four symbols shields traditionally used in Nabataean tombs.

Zeinab AlHashemi’s interactive sculpture uses camel skins thrown over an abstract, geometric base, resembling a rock formation in the desert.

Alicja Kwade’s architectural structures reflect and frame the natural artifacts she encountered on the desert floor.

The long, swollen steel structures of Shaikha AlMazrou are wedged into the voids of the rocks, in taut balance in the landscape, occupying the state between stasis and movement.

Abdullah AlOthman’s article refers to theories of refraction of light that date back to the earliest days of civilization and desert culture.

Khalil Rabah creates a mirage of an orchard of olive trees, which stand tall in the desert like living beings displaced from their native land and yearning to be repatriated, as an exploration of territory, survival and citizenship.

Monika Sosnowska’s sculptural exploration of memory bears witness to AlUla’s historic position as a hub and passageway of commerce and its more recent cultural awakening; it uses heritage tracks from the Hejaz Railway, which linked Damascus to Medina.

Ayman Zedani’s soundscape installation in a rock cavern features horizontal sculptural wires and audio projection of music, voices and footsteps, creating sounds that add to the chimes of nature.

Fadda, Conservation Advisor for Desert X AlUla 2022, says: “Desert concepts of mirage and oasis have long been linked to ideas of survival, perseverance, desire and wealth.

“The oasis relates to ideas of finding prosperity or paradise, while the mirage is a universal symbol of the mysteries of imagination and reality. They also evoke the incomprehensible beauty and abundance of nature in its most destitute state – the desert – and humans’ obsessive desire to capture and control it.

“Under the theme of ‘Sarab’, the artists featured in the exhibition – all of whom have spent time in the AlUla region – have developed ambitious and surprisingly innovative site-specific responses, all of which address deep-seated issues, that emerge from the local context but also resonate with audiences around the world.

Farsi, co-artistic director of Desert X AlUla, says, “Desert X AlUla plays a very important role in a vast wave of artistic and cultural initiatives that are shaping the ecosystem of creativity in Saudi Arabia.

Wakefield, co-artistic director of Desert X AlUla and artistic director of Desert X, says: “AlUla presents itself as the ideal site for an exhibition that explores the idea of ​​the desert as a place of interaction, dialogue and cultural exchange.

Nora Aldabal, Director of Arts and Creative Planning at RCU says, “The heritage, legacy and character of AlUla must be protected and preserved; with initiatives like Desert X AlUla, we are opening the next chapter in AlUla’s history as a cradle of artistic inspiration, transfer and expression.

Christopher S. Washington