The third edition of Desert X AlUla, which launched today and runs through March 23, offers a unique blend of contemporary art within the ancient and historically rich desert region of AlUla, Saudi Arabia. This year’s exhibition, under the thematic banner “In the Presence of Absence,” seeks to delve into concepts of visibility and the unseen, with 15 artists from around the globe contributing newly commissioned works.

Curated by Maya El Khalil and Marcello Dantas, and under the artistic direction of Raneem Farsi and Neville Wakefield, Desert X AlUla 2024 continues the tradition of site-responsive art, encouraging a dialogue between the artworks and the dramatic landscape of AlUla. This collaboration between Desert X and the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) underscores a commitment to fostering cultural dialogue through art, situated within a region known for its significant archaeological sites and natural beauty.

As El Khalil noted of Desert X AlUla 2024, “The region of AlUla is monumental. Formed of inconceivable spans of time and space, the urge is to meet it with imitations of similar size and impact. But the reality is, human efforts struggle to match the grandeur sculpted here. We challenged the artists participating in Desert X AlUla 2024 to adjust their perspective to encounter the unseen aspects of the place with reverence, attuning to the forces, rhythms and processes that shape the landscape in imperceptible ways. In response to this, the artists have developed innovative and dynamic works that address profound topics such as trade, migration and time that are relevant to the region and connect with the wider world.”

The selection of artists for this edition reflects a diverse international representation, including Aseel AlYaqoub from Kuwait, Bosco Sodi from Mexico, and Giuseppe Penone from Italy, among others. Their works are expected to offer various interpretations of the exhibition’s theme, exploring the layers of history, culture, and the natural environment that define AlUla.

Rand Abdul Jabbar, Where myths are born of mud and desire, Desert X AlUla 2024, photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of The Royal Commission for AlUla

Particular highlights of the exhibition include “Invisible Possibilities: When the Earth Began to Look at Itself” by Sara Alissa and Nojoud Alsudairi, which contemplates the site’s ecological transition through a self-reflective arrangement, and “To Breathe – AlUla” by Kimsooja, a work that uses chromatic effects to engage visitors with the landscape.

Other notable installations involve the use of natural and historical elements of AlUla, such as Ayman Yossri Daydban’s interpretation of a football pitch in a remote desert setting and Bosco Sodi’s incorporation of volcanic rocks, to provoke reflection on collective memory and the beauty inherent in the natural formations of the region.

Kimsooja, To Breathe – AlUla, Desert X AlUla 2024, photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of The Royal Commission for AlUla

Desert X AlUla not only serves as a platform for contemporary art but also as a catalyst for cultural and educational engagement. The exhibition is part of the AlUla Arts Festival and features an extensive program of events, including artist talks, workshops, and music events, aimed at both visitors and the local community.

This initiative aligns with the broader objectives of the RCU to promote AlUla as a global destination for arts and culture, contributing to the region’s ongoing development and the enrichment of the local and international art scene.

Filwa Nazer, Preserving Shadows, Desert X AlUla 2024, photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of The Royal Commission for AlUla

The exhibition’s site-responsive nature and the curatorial focus on engaging with the unseen elements of the landscape align with the growing interest in land art and the dialogue between art, nature, and history.

Desert X AlUla 2024 offers an opportunity to experience contemporary art in a context that bridges the ancient and the modern, inviting reflection on the themes of absence, memory, and the unseen forces that shape our world.

As Desert X 2024 curator Marcello Dantas put it, “The desert, often perceived as a place of emptiness, gradually unveils its intricate layers of existence as one immerses in it. Desert X AlUla invites artists to create original works with a unique canvas on an unprecedented scale. As visitors explore Desert X AlUla, they’ll discover that in times of uncertainty, when the tangible is elusive, nothing is more real than the presence of the invisible. We invite visitors to encounter the limitless boundaries of imagination and discover the profound forces that silently shape our world.”

Ayman Yossri Daydban, A rock garden in the shape of a full-sized soccer field, Desert X AlUla 2024, photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy of The Royal Commission for AlUla

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