When the ultra-conservative Kingdom announced it would be playing host to its own iteration of Coachella Valley’s now-infamous Desert X art exhibition, people weren’t sure how to take it.
And now, a few weeks before opening their very first site-responsive inaugural show, the list of participating artists has been announced.
Each was tasked with engaging with AlUla’s environmental conditions, historical context and surrounding communities to create 14 large-scale site-specific works to create dialogue around themes ranging from the passage of goods and ideas along the ancient incense route.
Some of the international artists who will be participating in the exhibition include California-born environmentalist artist Lita Albuquerque, Candian organic minimalist artist Gisela Colon and Danish collective Superflex.
Five Saudi artists will have work on display, namely Manal AlDowayan, Zahrah AlGhamdi, Nasser AlSalem, Rashed AlShashai and Muhannad Shono. While pieces by Lebanese artists Nadim Karam and Rayyane Tabet will accompany Emirati artist Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim. While North African artists include Egyptian artists Wael Shawky and Sherin Guirguis as well as French-Tunisian calligrafiti artist eL Seed.
British curator Neville Wakefield hopes that Desert X will open new dialogues across continents. “Site-specific exhibitions such as Desert X take their cues from land art of the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, when artists consciously gravitated towards the remote as a means of breaking down the walls – physical, experiential and economic – of the institutions to which they felt bound. Since then, globalisation has left us with a radically altered perception of the world. The universe may have contracted but cultural walls remain. Our hope is that in helping bring a site-specific contemporary art exhibition to the desert of AlUla, there will be new conversations, new cultural dialogue between individuals and communities. The exhibition will engage with the citizens of the country – half of whom are under 30 years of age. Fostering engagement at this critical time provides a way to connect artists and individuals who have remained isolated for far too long.”
Desert X AlUla will take place from January 31 – March 7 in AlUla, Saudi Arabia