Desert X AlUla: In the Presence of Absence

Desert X AlUla, a site-specific exhibition set against the backdrop of AlUla—an ancient Arabic oasis city—provides an opportunity for spectators to engage with monumental artworks, establishing a harmonious dialogue with the surrounding natural landscape, one of the major principles of land art. 

Curated by Marcello Dantas, who is renowned for his multidisciplinary approach that combine technology, science, and history, and Maya El Khalil, a well-known expert who specializes in the MENA area, the third editon’s theme, In the Presence of Absence, questions whether deserts are truly empty spaces with artists invited to explore theoretical notions of the unseen and converse with AlUla’s surroundings.

The desert reveals its complex layers as one immerses in it. The balanced roster of Desert X AlUla 2024 includes both Saudi and international artists. They were urged to perceive the unseen aspects of the place, aligning with the forces shaping the landscape. In response, they created dynamic works addressing topics like trade, migration, and time relevant to the region and the world.

Rana Haddad and Pascal Hachem | Reveries (2024)
Rana Haddad and Pascal Hachem, Reveries (2024). Exhibition view: Desert X AlUla. Source: Desert X

This edition showcases 15 newly commissioned artworks. Notable installations include the golden-wrapped volcanic rocks at Bosco Sodi, the delineated football pitch built by Ayman Yossri Daydban, and the polished stones by Caline Aoun that represent the fleeting nature of the desert. The ‘Reveries’ by Ibrahim Mahama suggest the birth of modern ecosystems from historic riches, while Rana Haddad and Pascal Hachem honor traditional crafts.

Other highlights include an iridescent tunnel created by South Korean conceptual artist Kimsooja, a melting sculpture by Aseel AlYaqoub that mimics the desert varnish, and a football pitch, where childhood memories merge into the silence of the nature designed by Ayman Yossri Daydban.

The Wadi AlFann desert, Harrat Uwayrid, and AlManshiyah Railway Station are serving as venues for the first time for this year’s Desert X AlUla. Additionally, practical classes on crafts, including palm weaving, ceramics, jewelry, geometry, and textiles, will be held at Madrasat Addeera, AlUla’s mixed-use creative hub.

The event is on view through March 2, 2024.


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