Desert X AlUla 2024 Showcases Modern Art in Saudi Arabia’s Age-Old Sands

Desert X has returned to AlUla, Saudi Arabia, for its third iteration, transforming the region’s ethereal terrain into a platform for modern sculpture and earthworks. The current exhibition, “In the Presence of Absence,” invites attendees to delve into the invisible and ineffable aspects of this age-old desert area. For its first-ever expansion, Desert X AlUla unfolds over three unique sites—the expansive desert of Wadi AlFann, the stark volcanic fields of Harrat Uwayrid, and the historical AlManshiyah Plaza near the AlUla Railway Station—offering a multi-faceted artistic journey through diverse environments. The event will grace AlUla’s landscapes from February 9th to March 23rd, 2024.

Under the curation of Maya El Khalil and Marcello Dantas, and with artistic leadership from Raneem Farsi and Neville Wakefield, Desert X AlUla 2024 presents fifteen original commissioned pieces. Each contributing artist, drawing inspiration from the theme “In the Presence of Absence,” delves into the desert’s concealed narratives, ethereal energies, and the silent echoes of its past. The exhibition is enriched with a varied array of events, including curator and artist discussions, educational activities for youngsters, and musical performances that range from traditional Saudi dances to serene soundscapes, fostering a dynamic cultural experience for visitors and the local populace.

Visitors stepping into the cylindrical space of Kimsooja’s To Breathe – AlUla are enveloped by shimmering walls, moving through a spiral to its core. The colorful walls transform ancient light into a spectrum that plays over both the observer and the surrounding environment.

This edition signifies an important moment in AlUla’s cultural evolution, with Desert X AlUla setting the stage for the forthcoming Wadi AlFann initiative, set to launch in 2026. This site is destined to become an international center for enduring, large-scale land art, expanding the horizons of creative expression and captivating audiences for future generations. Desert X AlUla highlights the capacity of art to disclose the hidden, stimulate conversation, and forge a connection with the distinct essence of a place.

In The Dot, Faisal Samra traces the genesis of the Wadi AlFann valley to a primordial fissure, illustrating the subtle forces that sculpt magnificence over time. A line of rock fragments represents the illusion of time.

Aseel AlYaqoub’s Weird Life: An ode to desert varnish draws from the mysterious ‘desert varnish’ that forms in environments like AlUla’s, developing a glowing patina in hues of yellow, orange, red, and black, which has puzzled scientists for ages.

Rana Haddad and Pascal Hachem’s work pays tribute to the area’s traditional crafts, constructing a sanctuary from compressed earth jars. Named Reveries, each jar in the structure features geometric openings, allowing the interplay of nature and light to create a dynamic dance of patterns within.

Ayman Yossri Daydban outlines a football pitch using white stones and rocks collected by the AlUla community, situated in a secluded, stony locale. The pitch stands as an enigmatic and intriguing element, stirring communal memories and reflecting on the societal importance of football.

Ibrahim Mahama’s installation, consisting of terracotta vessels, dots the landscape, hinting at nascent ecosystems born from historical remnants. Viewers can encounter Mahama’s works from various vantage points throughout Desert X AlUla.