Inaugural Desert X AlUla announces lineup of participating artists

Qasr al-Farid at UNESCO World Heritage Site Hegra in Saudi Arabia

After launching in the Coachella Valley in 2017, the Californian art biennial is now expanding with its first-ever edition in the AlUla region of northwestern Saudi Arabia.

The upcoming exhibition, co-curated by Desert X Artistic Director Neville Wakefield and Saudi curators Raneem Farsi and Aya Alireza, will feature 14 large-scale artworks installed amidst ancient rock formations in the Saudi Arabian desert.

Danish collective Superflex, Wael Shawky, eL Seed and Gisela Colon, as well as Saudi Arabian artists Manal AlDowayan, Zahrah AlGhambi and Nasser AlSalem will participate in the inaugural edition of Desert X AlUla.

The artists have been tapped to create site-specific artworks that "respond to different desert cultures and environmental conditions, and to the historical context of AlUla," in an effort to "connect desert communities and cultures through contemporary art."

Among them are "NAJMA (She Placed One Thousand Suns On The Transparent Overlays Of Space)" by Lita Albuquerque, in which the American artist invokes the cosmic myth of a female astronaut landing on Earth to spread light and information.

Rayyane Tabet will present the latest installment of his "The Shortest Distance Between Two Points" series, entitled "Steel Rings," in which the Lebanese artist references the TransArabian Pipeline.

Meanwhile, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim will reflect on the fragility of the desert ecosystem in "Falling Stones Garden," which consists of rock-like forms painted in highly saturated color.

First announced back in October, Desert X AlUla was met with a firestorm of criticism for accepting funds from the Saudi government's Royal Commission of AlUla, a government agency chaired by Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

While Desert X assures on their website that the site-specific exhibition "pledges to reinvigorate, protect and preserve AlUla as a vibrant, open museum," critics claim that the art initiative solely promotes the agenda of the Saudi Arabian leadership.

Three of Desert X's 14 board members, curator Yael Lipschutz, philanthropist Tristan Milanovich and artist Ed Ruscha pulled out of the project back in October.

Desert X AlUla will be held from January 31 to March 7 in the AlUla desert in northwest Saudi Arabia, with the full list of participating artists available on the official website.