A render of Ashab Al-Lal by Ahmed Mater at Wadi AlFann, AlUla

Saudi Arabia is Transforming a Desert Oasis Into a Playground for Contemporary Art

Calling all art lovers

A render of Ashab Al-Lal by Ahmed Mater at Wadi AlFann, AlUla

Up until a couple of years ago, Saudi Arabia was a destination largely frequented by only Muslim pilgrims hoping to complete Hajj and men on business trips. This was before 2019, when the large Gulf country introduced an e-visa for leisure tourism, welcoming visitors from all around the globe to take in everything that the Kingdom has to offer, including newly-established attractions and events, ranging from electronic dance music festivals to art exhibitions. This was a pivotal move in the implementation of Vision 2030, a program introduced to diversify the Kingdom’s economy via a host of attractions, in order to reduce the country’s reliance on oil. 

Among the initiatives launched is a spectrum of festivals currently shaping Saudi Arabia’s cultural landscape and attracting a host of tourists, celebrities, and industry elites to the Kingdom in the process. From Saudi Design Week in Riyadh to the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia is slowly cementing itself as a leading cultural destination for contemporary arts. Its latest plans for Wadi AlFann — meaning “Valley of the Arts” — further prove that. 

New, large-scale, site-specific commissions by renowned regional and international artists Manal AlDowayan, Agnes Denes, Michael Heizer, Ahmed Mater, and James Turrell will be the first five works to be conceived for the spectacular valley spanning approximately 65 square kilometers. These initial, permanently-placed five works will be completed and unveiled by 2024, marking the start of a continued program of commissions, with more artists to be announced.

The artists will create the works with respect for the natural, untouched landscape of stunning sandstone cliffs, undulating vistas, and canyons. 

“Wadi AlFann will rekindle the creativity of AlUla and deliver new transformative experiences for locals and visitors alike,” said Nora Aldabal, executive director of Arts and Creative Industries, Royal Commission for AlUla in a press release. “As custodians of this land, a crossroad between East and West marked by 200,000 years of natural, human and cultural history, we must continue to harness the unique legacy of AlUla to build its future,” she added. 

Wadi AlFann, developed in line with the Royal Commission for AlUla’s commitment to the region’s biodiversity and natural heritage, will unveil the first five artworks alongside an engaging public program that will include performances and tours through the valley.

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