Desert X AlUla in Saudi Arabia will return in 2022 with a new curator and a new location within the historic region of AlUla. The event will take place from February 11 to March 30.
The first Desert X AlUla, which opened in 2020, helped put Saudi Arabia on the art world map. An iteration of the art biennial that originated from California and held in the Coachella Valley, the initiative is a collaboration between Desert X and the Saudi government body Royal Commission for AlUla. Much like its US counterpart, the event presents a site-specific exhibition where artworks respond to the environment and land.
Desert X AlUla 2022 will take place in the Al Mutadil valley, across the famous Elephant Rock. It is a new location from the 2020 event, which was held in a different valley that is now being built up with more resorts and villas.
Currently, the works of Lita Albuquerque, Manal AlDowayan, Sharon Guirguis, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, Nadim Karam and Superflex from the 2020 event remain on-site.
The sprawling area includes the kingdom’s various heritage sites, including the Unseco World Heritage site of Hegra.
As part of the Saudi government’s 2030 plan, regions such as AlUla are being reopened and developed to bring in tourism and bolster the kingdom’s reputation on the global stage.
Scroll through the gallery below for pictures of the Desert X AlUla installations from 2020:
According to Nora Aldabal, arts and creative planning director at Royal Commission for AlUla, the historic region will feature 15 “landmark destinations for culture, heritage and creativity” by 2035.
The upcoming edition will be curated by Reem Fadda, director of the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi, as well as Raneem Farsi and Neville Wakefield, who curated the first Desert X AlUla with Aya Alireza.
Themed Sarab, the exhibition will explore the concept of mirage and oasis, investigating the aspirations associated with desert history and culture, but also wider definitions that extend across borders.
Fadda explains that the mirage and oasis have long been affiliated with “ideas of survival, perseverance, desire and wealth”, also saying that they “connote the incomprehensible beauty and abundance of nature in its most bereft state – the desert – and humans’ obsessive desire to capture and control it.”
She says the artists selected for the exhibition – the full list of which will be announced in January – have all spent time in the AlUla region to develop their works.
Programming for the next Desert X AlUla will include educational initiatives such as art mediator training and workshops for teachers.
According to Sumantro Ghose, artistic programming director for the Royal Commission for AlUla, the site will also welcome a new contemporary art gallery named Perspective, which will showcase works by artists from the kingdom.
Taking place alongside Desert X AlUla will also be an exhibition curated by Lulwah Al Homoud, What Lies Within: Works from the Basma Al Sulaiman Collection. The show will be the first in a series of presentations that focus on collections and patrons from the kingdom.
In the case of What Lies Within, the collection of Saudi art patron Basma Al Sulaiman includes works by Saudi Arabia's most established artists from the past two decades, including AlDowayan, Shadia Alem, Ahmed Mater, Maha Malluh, Mohammed Al Ghamdi, Abdulnasser Gharem, Dana Awartani and Adel Al Quraishi, among others.
Al Sulaiman founded the virtual museum Basma Al Sulaiman Museum of Contemporary Art in 2011 and helped develop the Jeddah Sculpture Park, which features 21 sculptures along the city’s waterfront walkway.
The exhibition, as well as Desert X AlUla, are part of AlUla Arts, a series of art festivals scheduled to take place during winter season. AlUla Arts will also include events in Al Jaddidah, which is located adjacent to AlUla Old Town, as well as the initiative Cinema El Housh, a showcase of films selected by Saudi arthouse filmmakers.
Desert X AlUla will take place from February 11 to March 30. What Lies Within: Works from the Basma Al Sulaiman Collection will take place from February 11 to March 22. More information is at livingmuseum.com