Third edition promises a vibrant showcase of contemporary visual and public art, design, artist residencies and workshops throughout the ancient city
Highlights include the return of the international open-air art exhibition Desert X AlUla, a special AlUla edition of the largest art prize in the MENA region, Ithra Art Prize, and Manal AlDowayan’s exhibitions in AlJadidah presented by Wadi AlFann
Maraya also hosts contemporary works by Saudi artists with ‘More than Meets the Eye’ exhibition
AlUla, Saudi Arabia – : The AlUla Arts Festival, under its new banner of Art Unframed, makes its highly anticipated return for its third edition running from 9 February – 2 March 2024, with an expansive program of events, exhibitions, and creative initiatives taking place across 22 days in the stunning landscape of the ancient oasis of AlUla.
Inaugurated in 2022, and part of the annual AlUla Moments calendar of events, the AlUla Arts Festival features an exciting mix of creatives including local, regional, and international artists, performers, curators, collectors and more.
Desert X AlUla 2024 – Following two exhibitions since 2020, the international open-air art exhibition Desert X AlUla returns for its third edition from 9 February – 23 March 2024, placing visionary contemporary artworks by Saudi and international artists amidst the extraordinary desert landscape of AlUla. This year’s exhibition, under the curatorial vision of Maya El Khalil and Marcello Dantas – as well as artistic direction from Raneem Farsi and Neville Wakefield – features 15 newly commissioned artworks.
Under the theme of In the Presence of Absence, Desert X AlUla 2024 asks ‘What cannot be seen?’ Often dismissed as spaces of emptiness, deserts are rendered mute, and static, but there is much more than meets the eye. This edition of Desert X AlUla will be situated across three locations for the first time: in the desert landscape of Wadi AlFann; amongst the black lava stone terrain and breathtaking views of Harrat Uwayrid; and at the AlManshiyah Plaza, which reveals the many layers of history and cultural confluence you find in AlUla.
Wadi AlFann presents Manal AlDowayan, one of Saudi Arabia’s most significant contemporary artists, in the lead-up to her new land art commission, Oasis of Stories, a large-scale labyrinthine installation inspired by AlUla Old Town, which will be permanently placed in AlUla’s monumental desert landscape from 2026. During AlUla Arts Festival, two adjacent exhibitions – featuring drawing, ceramic, soft sculpture, painting and weaving – take place in AlJadidah Arts District, at the heart of AlUla’s community.
The first exhibition marks a milestone in the development of Oasis of Stories: on display are hundreds of drawings gathered from the artist’s participatory workshops with communities across AlUla. These drawings and stories will eventually be inscribed into the walls of Oasis of Stories, enabling AlUla’s residents to leave their permanent trace in Wadi AlFann. A parallel exhibition presented in collaboration with Sabrina Amrani Gallery, titled Their Love Is Like All Loves, Their Death Is Like All Deaths, delves further into AlDowayan’s practice, with works including: soft sculptures made of tussar silk printed with images related to AlUla’s heritage; labyrinth-like drawings inspired by AlUla Old Town; engraved clay works made of mud gathered from across Saudi Arabia; and wall pieces featuring Sadu textile weaving, a technique traditionally used by Bedouin women.
More than Meets the Eye – Arts AlUla presents an exhibition of contemporary works by Saudi artists on loan from collectors in Saudi Arabia, hosted at Maraya. Curated by Dr. Effat Abdullah Fadag, the exhibition will re-canonise the history of the contemporary art movements in Saudi Arabia, documenting the story of artists and the role of collectors in the development of the art scene. The exhibition will run from February 9 – April 27 and is part of the pre-opening programme for the future contemporary art museum in AlUla.
With works by pioneering Saudi artists such as Abdulhalim Radwi, Mohammed Alsaleem and Mounirah Mously alongside leading contemporary Saudi artists such as Ahmed Mater, Muhannad Shono and Dana Awartani, the exhibition explores connections, influences and shared stories from across generations of Saudi artists.
Ithra Art Prize – the winner of the largest art prize in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Obaid Alsafi, unveils his winning artwork, Palms in Eternal Embrace. The 6th edition of the annual prize run by the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) is the first in collaboration with Arts AlUla, as part of a wider partnership between both organisations to combine their respective efforts to support creativity in Saudi Arabia and the wider region.
This year’s theme Art in the Landscape, called for submissions of public artwork proposals that are site-specific to AlUla and that present interpretations of AlUla’s unique landscapes and natural heritage. The winning large-scale site-specific installation will exhibit for six weeks amid the 2.3 million date palms of the AlUla Oasis, encouraging viewers to reflect on ways to safeguard the natural environment, and bringing attention to endangered palm trees, a compelling symbol of the landscapes and heritage of the Arabian Peninsula.
AlUla Artist Residency- Arts AlUla presents two Artist Residency exhibitions, the Visual Art Residency exhibition The Shadow Over Everything, and the Design Residency exhibition Unguessed Kinships, which will run until 30th April 2024, emphasising AlUla’s emerging role as a focal point for cultural exchange and artistic innovation in the region.
The exhibitions showcase pieces created by international artists and designers invited to participate in the AlUla Artist Residency Programme, founded in partnership with the French Agency for AlUla Development (Afalula). Located in two distinct outdoor venues, the exhibitions will be hosted at Mabiti in The Palm Grove, and Madrasat Addeera.
The AlUla Artist Residency programme exemplifies AlUla’s commitment to becoming a global hub for creative minds, offering multiple programmes this year in visual arts, design, botanical landscaping, heritage, and innovation.
AlUla 1445 – Featuring images by artist Hassan Hajjaj who is renowned for work that merges contemporary art, fashion and cultural identity. He photographed local people and residents in February 2023 in an outdoor studio at Madrasat Addeera. The subjects include farmers, sports teams, merchants, craftspeople and the creative community.
Design Space AlUla- February 2024 will mark the opening of Design Space AlUla, a focal point for showcasing AlUla’s wide-ranging design initiatives contributing to the vision for AlUla. Located in the AlJadidah Arts District, Design Space AlUla provides exhibition, workshop and archive space, and is designed to foster collaboration among design professionals, students, and design enthusiasts, whilst strengthening AlUla’s legacy across the cultural sphere as a catalyst for creative inspiration and design.
The inaugural exhibition, Mawrid: Celebrating Inspired Design, curated by Sara Ghani, will introduce the design thinking process behind 10 recent AlUla-inspired designs across design, architecture and urban planning. The launch programme, taking place between 15 – 17 February will include keynote presentations, masterclasses, workshops, panel discussions and design tours.
For more information on AlUla Arts Festival and to book tickets, kindly visit experiencealula.com.