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Arts & Culture


Desert X AlUla returns for a 3rd season themed “In The Presence Of Absence”

The ancient city of AlUla once again plays host to a spectacle of artistic exploration – Desert X AlUla 2024. Curated by Maya El Khalil and Marcello Dantas, this year’s iteration throws open the door to the invisible, rethinking the very notion of emptiness associated with deserts.

Themed “In the Presence of Absence,” the exhibition invites artists and audiences alike to embark on a multi-sensory pilgrimage, promising to offer an immersive experience that extends to tours, craft workshops, and contemporary art showcases. Running from February 9 to March 23, 2024, this biennial event aims to be the fusion of art, culture, and environmental consciousness, 


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“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 across eons. We challenged the artists 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. Their works diagram and engage ephemeral phenomena like the movement of light or the erosion of wind, becoming performed by these forces to reveal the monumental significance of what might at first seem absent,” explained Maya El Khalil, curator of Desert X AlUla 2024.


Kader Attia, Whistleblower

16 unique artworks

Imagine traversing three distinct landscapes – the wind-carved sandstone formations of Wadi AlFann, the volcanic expanse of Harrat Uwayrid, and the echoes of time at the AlMansyah Plaza. In each, 16 unique artworks are featured, each crafted to converse with the environment, drawing inspiration from its history and landscape. 

Among the standout pieces are Ayman Yossri Daydban’s football pitch, Aseel AlYaqoub’s exploration of desert rock varnish, and Kimsooja’s iridescent tunnel, each offering unique perspectives on the exhibition’s central question. Other installations include Filwa Nazer’s “Preserving Shadows,” a winding steel pathway, and Kader Attia’s wind-responsive blue glass sculptures. 


Ayman Yossri Daydban, A rock garden in the shape of a full-sized soccer field

“The desert, often perceived as a place of emptiness, gradually unveils its intricate layers of existence as one immerses in it. These layers manifest through the ever-shifting terrain, the intricate dance of time, the evidences of life, and the transformative power of climate,” says Marcello Dantas. “Desert X AlUla invites artists to create original works with a unique canvas on an unprecedented scale. We tasked these artists with the mission of uncovering traces that transcend the limits of our sight, blurring the line between what we see and what we truly perceive, in the presence of absence.”

Published on 14 February 2024

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