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.