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8 Artists to Discover at Desert X This Year

Your ultimate guide

After a short hiatus, the open-air, desert art installation is back. If you happened to miss the buzz about the inaugural exhibition in 2020, we got you

This year’s event, which will take place from February 11 until March 30, will feature 15 Saudi and international contemporary artists, set again in the beautiful desert landscape of AlUla, Saudi Arabia.

The theme is Sarab, meaning “mirage” in Arabic. The show investigates the concept of mirages and oases, the juxtaposition of both naturalism and artificial man-made sculptures.

The organizers Desert X, and the Royal Commission for AlUla mentioned the installation combines both features of naturalism and man-made artificial structures; it continues to discuss themes of “address dreams, camouflage, fiction, (dis)appearance, extraction, illusion and myth.”

Building on the legacy of previous events, both nationally and internationally, the open-air artspace promises to deliver thought-provoking art installations for the public throughout the month of February.

We decided to dig a little deeper to shine a spotlight on some of the featured artists in the exhibition.

Shadia Alem

Saudi artist Shadia Alem, says that she carries her hometown of Makkah with her “like a cosmopolitan cube reflecting it on the world and reflecting the world.” Sister of award winning author Raja Alem, Shadia now resides in Paris. 

Her connection with her homeland is embodied in her stark metallic installation, encompassing “the Arabian desert’s literature, mathematics and mythology.” The sculpture highlights Alem’s artistic background, from painting, to sculpture, and into installation space. The methods that have been fine tuned into a reflective sculpture to display the unique natural beauty of Al Ula.

Ayman Zedani

Ayman Zedani’s installation aims to highlight the impact of mankind on the natural world. This environmental base for an art statement allows Zedani to attempt to “renegotiate the relationship between human and non-human, animal and plant, organic and inorganic.”

His conceptual soundscape installation for Desert X AlUla uses both visual and audio mediums  “music, voices and footsteps, creating a cacophony of sounds that add to the chimes of nature.”

Dana Awartani

Jeddah-based artist, Dana Awartani, continues in vain with nature. She contributed an echo chamber-esque sculpture that is inspired by traditional Saudi architecture.

She references ancient Nabatean tombs and “mimicking the shapes of surrounding mountains, gorges, caverns and rock formations” for her inspiration in this project.

Khalil Rabah

Palestinian artist Khalil Rabah needs no introduction, founder of Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art. Hailing from Ramallah, he contributed a sculpture of olive tree orchards, reminiscent of his homeland. The tree, a symbol now synonymous with both resistance, and occupation. 

Like his Palestinian contemporaries, Rabah’s work addressed concepts such as displacement, diaspora and identity. His work is “an exploration of territory, survival and citizenship”. The sculpture “creates a mirage of an orchard of olive trees, which stand here in the desert as living things displaced from their indigenous land and longing to be repatriated.”

Sultan bin Fahad

Saudi artist, Sultan bin Fahad considers art between tangible and intangible cultures. The central theme of the installation focuses on the “spirituality and the material culture of Makkah in his native Saudi Arabia,” according to the Desert X press release.

“In his work, he reinterprets histories, stories and narratives with the use of material culture,” it continues. Sultan bin Fahad’s clay structure is no exception. The mirrors manipulate light from all angles creating the impression of a mirage, while inside is an “urn-like sculpture embossed with four protective symbols traditionally used in Nabatean tombs.”

Zeinab Al-Hashemi

Hailing from The Emirates, the Dubai based artist Zeinab Al-Hashemi created this interactive sculpture, using discarded camel skin as an abstract base, the work’s geometric shapes mimic the surrounding rock formations on the site. “Like a camouflage, these camel-hide sculptures merge into the mountains,” the brochure states.

Al-Hashemi “is fascinated with capturing the transformation of her nation, examining both the contrast of and interdependence between the abstract, geometric shapes of urbanism and the organic forms associated with her country’s natural landscape,” her exhibition biography says.

Abdullah Al-Othman

Saudi-born Abdullah Al-Othman is no stranger to creative outputs, being both an artist and a poet. The multiformat installation concept applies all of the above poetry, sculpture and also includes street art and interventions, and video.

Al-Othman’s sculpture is designed to “interact with the light and create a radiant space that seeks to manifest the experience of (seeing a) mirage for the first time,” “references theories of light refraction dating back to the early days of desert civilization and culture.” The event brochure continues.

Shaikha Al-Mazrou

Hailing from The Emirates, Shaikha Al-Mazrou sculptures “are expressions of materiality – articulations of tension and the interplay between form and content.” Professor of Visual Arts at New York, University Abu Dhabi, her installation for Desert X AlUla are steel structures, “wedged n the voids of rocks, tensely balanced in the landscape, occupying the liminal state between stasis and movement, creating a silent-yet-imposing composition suspended in inertia.”

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