15 Art Installations Inspired by the Desert Pop Up in Saudi Arabia

"Reveries" by Rana Haddad and Pascal Hachem

“Reveries” by Rana Haddad and Pascal Hachem

For the third time, the Saudi desert is being transformed into an open-air art gallery thanks to Desert X AlUla. Opening on February 9, the international art festival is expanding to three locations for the first time. This gives visitors even more opportunities to view 15 commissioned artworks created by the 17 participating artists.

From the desert landscape of Wadi AlFann to the black lava stone terrain and breathtaking views of Harrat Uwayrid, the environment is a protagonist of the event. The artists spent time in the desert before developing their ideas, meaning that the work is firmly rooted in its surroundings.

By selecting seasoned artists from around the globe, the curators provide the public with a wide array of visuals. This includes South Korean conceptual artist Kimsooja‘s colorful glass spiral, which was influenced by the geometrical forms of the desert.

“It reflects the movement of wind and the passage of light traversing through the spiral path of prismatic glass surface that becomes a fluid, translucent canvas,” the artist writes. “Sunlight unravels into an iridescent color spectrum, casting rainbow-colored shadows and circular brushstrokes onto the sandy earth.”

Considered one of the Middle East's conceptual art pioneers, Saudi artist Faisal Samra looked to the origins of the desert for his piece The Dot. In it, a mirrored orb reflects a thin line of crushed rock in an effort to show how the Wadi AlFann Valley originated from an ancient crack.

Several artists were inspired by the region's traditional crafts. This includes Rana Haddad and Pascal Hachem. The Lebanese artists created Reveries from rammed earth jars. By stacking them in several cylinders, they formed refuges from the desert heat and, thanks to the form of the jars, each tower has small cutouts that let the desert light filter through. This allows nature to take over the work with its ever-evolving light and shadow.

Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama also used ceramics in the three installations he created for Desert X AlUla. His terracotta pots are scattered across the festival's different locations. The pots were created in Ghana and transported to Saudi Arabia, making the installation a true mix of traditions and cultures.

Desert X AlUla runs until March 23, 2024. During this time, an extensive program of events for visitors and local communities will take place. This will include curator and artist talks, primary school visits, and art workshops on themes from collage and model making to printmaking and photography. Music events taking place during Desert X AlUla include traditional Saudi dance, ambient compositions, and live radio broadcasts. 

Fifteen new monumental artworks have been commissioned for Desert X AlUla.

"Reveries" by Rana Haddad and Pascal Hachem

“Reveries” by Rana Haddad and Pascal Hachem

"The Dot" by Faisal Samra

“The Dot” by Faisal Samra

Faisal Samra Art Installation at Desert X AlUla 2024

“The Dot” by Faisal Samra

International and local artists were invited into the desert. They then created their installations inspired by the environment.

"To Breathe — AlUla" by Kimsooja

“To Breathe — AlUla” by Kimsooja

Desert X AlUla 2024

“To Breathe — AlUla” by Kimsooja

This is the festival's third edition, which is expanding for the first time into three different locations.

Ibrahim Mahama at Desert X AlUla 2024

“Dung Bara — The Rider Does Not Know the Ground Is Hot Desert” by Ibrahim Mahama

"Preserving Shadows" by Filwa Nazer

“Preserving Shadows” by Filwa Nazer

"Invisible Possibilities: When the Earth Began to Look at Itself" by Sara Alissa and Nojoud Alsudairi

“Invisible Possibilities: When the Earth Began to Look at Itself” by Sara Alissa and Nojoud Alsudairi

"A Rock Garden in the Shape of a Full Sized Soccer Field" by Ayman Yossri Daydban

“A Rock Garden in the Shape of a Full Sized Soccer Field” by Ayman Yossri Daydban

Desert X AlUla 2024 runs from February 9, 2024, to March 23, 2024.

"Whistleblower" by Kader Attia

“Whistleblower” by Kader Attia

"Whistleblower" by Kader Attia

“Whistleblower” by Kader Attia

Desert X AlUla 2024

“Where Myths Are Born of Mud and Desire” by Rand Abdul Jabbar

Desert X AlUla 2024

“Sfumato” by Karola Braga

"Weird Life: An Ode to Desert Varnish" by Aseel Al Yaqoub

“Weird Life: An Ode to Desert Varnish” by Aseel Al Yaqoub

Desert X AlUla: Website | Instagram | Facebook

All images by Lance Gerber, courtesy of The Royal Commission for AlUla. My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Desert X AlUla.

Related Articles:

448 Hand-Formed Pyramids Form Mesmerizing Mandala in Abu Dhabi

14 Artists Transform Saudi Arabian Desert Into a Contemporary Art Oasis

Pyramids Are a Dramatic Backdrop for a Mirrored Orb Inspired by Ancient Egypt

Strange Monolith Discovered in Remote Part of Utah Desert Mysteriously Disappears

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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