Home » Desert X 2024: Discover the exhibition that explores the Saudi Arabian desert

Desert X 2024: Discover the exhibition that explores the Saudi Arabian desert

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Desert X 2024: Discover the exhibition that explores the Saudi Arabian desert

In the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert, in the city of AlUla, the third edition of Desert X is taking place, an art exhibition that brings together large works in the open air and in dialogue with nature – in this case, with natural heritage. In 2024, the exhibition was developed under the theme “In the Presence of Absence” and can be visited until March 23rd.

Before establishing itself in the Middle East, the event had its first version on another continent: in 2017, it debuted as a “sculpture biennial” in the Coachella Valley, in the California desert. At the time, the exhibition was met with harsh criticism for forming a partnership between institutions from the United States and Saudi Arabia, an undemocratic country that violates human rights laws. As a result, Desert

In this effort to give visibility to the local artistic scene and promote a culture little known worldwide, the Saudi Royal Commission tried to financially support the initiative. Through “Vision 2030”, an economic, cultural and social reform plan that aims to open doors for tourism in the region, Desert X AlUla emerged in 2020, with large installations that explore the relationship between art and the space through different perspectives.

This year, the appointed curators invited artists from all over the world to think about northwest Saudi Arabia based on a central question: “What cannot be seen?”. Working with the conceptual ideas of the invisible and inexpressible, the selected works seek to connect the public with the nature of their surroundings, opposing the idea of ​​the desert as a discarded, empty, mute and static space.

According to the organization of the exhibition, the artists, encouraged to work with what is not immediately apparent, end up staging new encounters with the landscape, “imagining alternative perspectives that appreciate the imperceptible forces and atmospheres of time, wind, light , of the flows of history and myths intertwined in place”.

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Courtesy of The Royal Commission for AlUla | Sara Alissa & Nojoud Alsudairi, Invisible Possibilities, Desert X AlUla

The Brazilian presence

In 2024, some nations that had never participated in Desert X gained prominent positions, such as Brazil. In this edition, the curator of the exhibition, together with the Lebanese Maya El Khalil, is the Brazilian Marcello Dantas. Known for having produced solo exhibitions of big names in contemporary art around the world, the award-winning curator and artistic director was one of those responsible for collaborating with several museums and cultural centers in South America, such as the Museu da Língua Portuguesa and Japan House. In addition to him, who also represents Brazil at the event is Karola Braga from São Paulo. It is the first time that a Brazilian artist and a Latin American woman have been selected to exhibit.

Marcello Dantas. Images courtesy of the Royal Commission for AlUla.

Karola develops olfactory research and uses aroma as a central element in her creations. For the occasion, she prepared a site-specific work entitled “Sfumato”, which was inspired by the period known as the Incense Route, more than 5000 years ago. “Aromatic spices and resins had great value as luxury items. Trade routes like the famous Incense Route were established to transport these precious commodities from distant civilizations, facilitating cultural exchange, commerce and discovery,” she commented.

Image of the Sfumato project by Karola Braga for Desert X AIUIa 2024 | Image: Karola Braga.

In an attempt to recreate, through smells, the sensorial experience of that historical context, she took different incense sticks to the AlUla desert, a region where traders took breaks on their journeys to rest and take care of their camels. “My goal is to transport participants back in time, allowing them to interact with the Rota’s olfactory heritage, its fragrant wares and the cultural exchanges it facilitated,” added the artist.

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“Sfumato” is formed by a hidden structure, hidden in the sandy desert landscape, from which clouds of smoke emerge with fragrances of frankincense and myrrh, the main spices traded in the Routes. Connecting the present and the past, Karola stimulates the sense of smell and presents the importance that odor has had over the centuries.

Courtesy of the Royal Commission for AlUla | CREDIT: Lance Gerber.

Other highlights

This year’s edition covers three different locations: Wadi AlFann, Harrat Uwayrid and alManshiyah Square. Each of these spaces has its own characteristics, which were studied and served as inspiration for the artists. This is the case of the work “To Breathe”, by Korean Kimsooja, which discusses the passage of time through the wind, the spectrum of light and original geographic elements of the desert. Another notable proposal is “Now You See Me, Now You Don’t”, which was in the first edition of Desert X AlUla, in 2020, and continues to be activated by visitors. It is a trampoline structure attached to the sand floor, where the public can jump and play with the visual game that takes place between hiding and revealing the human presence in the place.

Courtesy of The Royal Commission for AlUla | Kimsooja, To Breathe, AlUla, Desert X AlUla 2024.

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