You might have seen Desert X’s large-scale installations across California’s Coachella Valley (and all over your IG feed over the last few years). But now the contemporary art biennial is heading to Saudi Arabia next year.
As the ultra-conservative kingdom rolls out its new tourism agenda, the government’s Royal Commission for Al Ula struck a deal with the California-based organization to bring Desert X to the historic site in north-western Saudi Arabia, Al Ula.
The exhibition will be curated by Desert X’s artistic director Neville Wakefield, and Saudi curators Raneem Farsi and Aya Alireza—who previously curated two exhibitions of contemporary art for Donald Trump and his wife Melania during their visit to Saudi Arabia in 2017.
The Saudi Royal Commission of Al Ula will be funding Desert X Al Ula (which will also serve as the name of the event). The move comes as part of Vision 2030, the kingdom’s long-term plan that’s spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to diversify the nation’s economy.
According to Desert X’s founder and board president Susan Davis, the goal of the collaboration is to spark “a new dialogue, one that reaches across boundaries and borders.”
“Ultimately, it’s a way to have direct communication, artists to artists, artists to individuals, artists to the bigger audiences. Ultimately, we see our involvement as a way to engage with individuals, not to isolate them,” she added in an interview with the New York Times.
The move comes after Saudi Arabia announced its new tourism visa program, allowing visitors form 49 different countries to travel to Saudi Arabia for non-religious purposes. Tourists are able to stay in the kingdom for up to three months.