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An artistic renaissance is quietly unfolding in the heart of the Saudi Arabian desert. The third edition of Desert X AlUla, set to commence from 9 February to 23 March 2024, is a testament to this burgeoning cultural movement. This site-responsive, open-air art exhibition, part of the AlUla Arts Festival, underscores Saudi Arabia’s commitment to cultural development and international artistic exchange.

Maya El Khalil and Marcello Dantas, the appointed curators for this year’s edition, bring a wealth of experience and innovative perspectives to the event. El Khalil, a renowned art advisor with a focus on the MENA region, and Dantas, an award-winning curator known for blending art with science, history, and technology, are poised to elevate Desert X AlUla to new heights.

The theme for 2024, “In the Presence of Absence,” invites artists and audiences alike to ponder the unseen, the unexpressed aspects of the desert. This theme challenges the traditional notion of deserts as empty spaces, revealing instead their dynamic and intricate layers. Artists are encouraged to explore these layers, engaging with elements like light, wind, and the historical and mythical narratives embedded in the landscape.

Image: Desert X

Desert X AlUla, a collaboration between Desert X and the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), not only celebrates contemporary art but also fosters a dialogue with nature, drawing on the principles of land art. This exhibition aligns with the legacy of Desert X in California’s Coachella Valley, yet it carves its own distinct identity by responding to the unique environmental and cultural contexts of AlUla.

Moreover, Desert X AlUla plays a pivotal role in the lead-up to the opening of Wadi AlFann in 2026, a 65-square-kilometer site envisioned as a global destination for monumental, site-specific land art. This initiative marks a significant milestone in the RCU’s Cultural Manifesto, aiming to perpetuate and expand the artistic narrative in Saudi Arabia.

The exhibition will be situated across various locations in AlUla, including the Wadi AlFann desert, Harrat Uwayrid, and AlManshiyah Railway Station. These diverse landscapes provide a dramatic backdrop for the artworks, inviting visitors to experience a unique interplay between art, nature, and history.

Image: Desert X

Desert X AlUla also contributes to the local community by acquiring works from previous editions, some of which are displayed at Habitas, AlUla, and other locations. This not only enriches the artistic heritage of the region but also fosters a deeper appreciation for contemporary art among local and international audiences.

As Saudi Arabia continues to emerge as a cultural crossroads, Desert X AlUla stands as a beacon of artistic innovation and cultural dialogue. The exhibition, embedded in the rich tapestry of AlUla’s history and the vast expanse of its desert, offers a profound experience where art transcends traditional boundaries, and the unseen becomes palpable.


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