Desert X AlUla 2020

The 2020 exhibit, co-curated by Saudi curators Raneem Farsi and Aya Alireza with Desert X Artistic Director Neville Wakefield, embraced AlUla’s extraordinary environment and rich cultural heritage. As the first-ever Desert X exhibition outside of the United States and the first site-responsive exhibition of its kind in Saudi Arabia, it opened up and established a cross-cultural dialogue between local and regional artists and artists from previous iterations of Desert X in California.

Visitors streamed into the desert, surrounded by magnificent stretches of sand, towering sandstone cliffs and huge rocks. The 14 featured works displayed each artists’ interpretation of the desert, made especially for AlUla. The large-scale installations related to the environment, evoked the region’s unique desert culture and immersed visitors in new and inventive ways.

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“One Two Three Swing!” was among the most interactive – and fun – installations at Desert X AlUla. Attendees could simply view these few sets of three-seated swings connected by a zig-zagging orange support structure — or they could climb aboard, setting it in motion. The real magic happened when they were joined by others on their swing and, working together, they made it soar. Superflex is a Danish artist group founded in 1993 by Jakob Fenger, Rasmus Nielsen and Bjørnstjerne Christiansen.


Sitting in repose atop a boulder in the hidden valley and peering out across the ages, a striking ultramarine blue female figure commanded attention as attendees gazed up at her. Some may have wondered what she was thinking or just how far into the vast desert landscape she could see. This installation was a continuation of Lita Albuquerque’s projects in the great deserts of the world. She is a renowned installation and environmental artist, painter and sculptor on the faculty of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.

GISELA COLON “The Future is Now”

“The Future is Now,” the latest in Gisela Colon’s “Parabolic Monolith” series, seemed to spring up from deep within the earth and sand. This sleek and futuristic shape stood in stark contrast to the timeless desert scenery of AlUla, marrying past and future in a simple message. The piece also shifted with the sun, sometimes reflecting rainbow-like patterns and, other times, the shadows of its surrounding desert rock formations. Raised in Puerto Rico, Gisela Colon is a Los Angeles-based contemporary artist.


Attendees were drawn to “Falling Stones Garden” when they glimpsed a few large, colourful spheres set at the base of a cliff. Wandering closer, they realised that hundreds of round sculptures were scattered among the fallen rocks, feeling both at home and out of place. The whimsical and intriguing installation was composed of 320 sculptures that varied in size and hue. Artist Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim was born in Khor Fakkan in the United Arab Emirates. His fascination with that area’s desolate, rocky terrain is reflected in his artwork.


From the side, “On Parade” seemed a long, fantastical procession reminiscent of a caravan of people, camels and other desert life forms. Seen from the front or rear, the characters almost vanished from sight. But as the sun moved from directly overhead, the growing shadows added to the figures’ apparent heft, lengthening their forms. A multidisciplinary Lebanese visual artist, sculptor, painter and architect, Nadim Karam fuses his artistic output of sculpture, painting and drawing with his background in architecture to create large-scale urban art projects in cities around the world.


From across the exhibition valley, attendees could see a striking video; the familiar shapes of camels were rendered in ghostly white against a shifting purple background. Projected against a cliff, they seemed to be ambling up toward the heavens. This modern output was projected from a traditional mud house with a Bedouin-style tent atop it, turning the familiar on its head. Born in Egypt, artist Wael Shawky spent his youth in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, before returning to Egypt as a teen.


At first glance, “Steel Rings” appeared to be just that — a series of rings set in a line on the desert floor. In truth, though, the work symbolised the Trans-Arabian Pipeline in skeletal form. Each ring was engraved with the distance from the pipe’s source and its corresponding geographic coordinates. The 40 rings exhibited at Desert X AlUla represented the last 40 kilometres of pipeline that run through Saudi Arabia after travelling through four other countries. Trained as both an architect and a sculptor, Beirut-based artist Rayyane Tabet has a master of fine arts degree from the University of California San Diego.


The black, organic river of “The Lost Path” emerged as if it had been placed there by nature, flowing around boulders on its way to lower ground. But this path with its many tributaries was formed from plastic pipes, a by-product of the petroleum industry. Attendees could walk along it, choosing which branch to follow to see how the plastic river played out against the landscape. Muhannad Shono is a Saudi Arabian contemporary artist who works in illustration, photography and video, among other media.

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Circular pieces on the desert floor seemed to come to life as the sun peeked through the cliffs, highlighting one piece and then another. Similar to a mirage, what appeared to be water was actually a series of massive trampolines that could be not only observed, but also touched, laid upon and jumped on. Each night, as the light faded toward nightfall, the trampolines were transformed into “moon circles,” activated through a series of lighting techniques. Saudi artist Manal AlDowayan lives in London, where she is working on her master’s degree in contemporary art practice in the public sphere at the Royal College of Art in London.

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At first glance, Zahrah AlGhamdi’s installation appeared to be a sparkling, flowing river with multiple tributaries. In fact, it consisted of some 6,000 tin date containers of various sizes, laid out across the undulating sands of AlUla. It was symbolic of the precious water, bubbling up from ancient springs, that gave life to the dates that were contained in those boxes. The Saudi visual and land artist is an assistant professor at the College of Art and Design at the University of Jeddah.

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On the surface, “Amma Qabl” appeared to be a plain metallic tube, where one could marvel at seeing themselves and the rugged sandstone cliffs reflected in the shiny surface. The tube, though, was big enough to walk through, and its form came from calligraphic letterforms stretched 9 metres long and read “Amma Qabl.” Attendees could stroll through the metallic tunnel, a passageway whose name loosely means “what precedes,” representing a journey from past to present. A calligrapher and an architect, Nasser Al-Salem’s work combines the Arabic written word with his formal education in architecture. He lives and works as an architect in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

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Rashed Al Shashai’s playful pyramid shape commanded attention, with its rich blue exterior split in two to reveal its brilliant fuchsia interior. Upon closer inspection, this iconic shape, which hearkened to ancient civilisations, was revealed to be made of the ubiquitous plastic pallets used today for shipping goods around the world. Attendees could walk through the middle of the pyramid, and at night, it was illuminated from the desert floor. A Saudi artist, Rashed Al Shashai holds a master of visual arts degree and is an arts educator and prominent figure of the contemporary Saudi art scene.

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“Kholkhal Aliaa” was inspired by a Bedouin anklet given to artist Sherin Guirguis by her mother. Approaching this black geometric shape, it appeared to levitate high overhead in a crevice between two massive rocks framed by the blue sky. It then seemed to change forms, its golden interior almost glowing and the words of a local Bedouin poet inscribed on it. A visual artist based in Los Angeles, Guirguis was born and raised in Egypt.

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From a distance, eL Seed’s artwork looked like an intriguing but random collection of fluid lines, but those who understood Arabic script recognised the graceful shapes as letterforms. In fact, the shapes contain the lines of poetry by Jameel Bin Abdullah Bin Moammer rendered in tan forms that echo the immense sands of AlUla. eL Seed is a French-Tunisian street artist whose works incorporate traditional Arabic calligraphy, a style he calls “calligraffiti.” He’s based in Dubai.

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In early 2020, Desert X had its inaugural exhibition in AlUla, and the beginning of Desert X AlUla. After an enormous positive response, Desert X AlUla became a recurring exhibition showcasing local, regional and international artists. Follow the link to learn more about past exhibitions.

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AlUla Arts Festival Highlights


A vibrant new hub of restaurants, shops and more, AlJadidah quickly became a must-visit location in AlUla. Beautiful murals bring an artistic touch to the pedestrian-friendly area, where the world's largest hand-painted carpet lines the road for visitors. Centrally located, AlJadidah sits beautifully on the edge of AlUla Old Town and overlooks the AlUla Oasis.

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Desert X AlUla 2022

Desert X AlUla 2022 returned for its second edition with an extraordinary open-air art exhibition from 11th February to 30th March 2022. Placing visionary contemporary artworks by 15 Saudi and international artists amidst the remarkable desert landscape of AlUla, 2022's exhibition explored ideas of mirage and oasis.

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Path Of Poets

The live immersion show "Path of Poets" brought to life a re-creation of the celebrated poet Jamil bin Muammar alongside other characters, sharing the story of Buthaina in this specially created show of creative storytelling.

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What Lies Within

What Lies Within was an exhibition of Saudi contemporary art from the collection of Basma AlSulaiman hosted at the award-winning Maraya.

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AlUla Performing Arts Festival

The AlUla Performing Arts Festival was a unique international festival that celebrated all forms of performing arts. From acrobatic performances to traditional street buskers, AlJadidah was bustling with all kinds of activity for an incredible ten days.



Upon completing the first AlUla Artist Residency, the six participating artists had their works and research on display at The Oasis Reborn Exhibition. Located in the palm-grove of Mabiti AlUla, the exhibition invited visitors to immerse themselves in the cultural oasis of AlUla and discover new perspectives on this ancient landscape.

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Barzan Living Gardens

Handed down through generations, Barzan Living Gardens is a place of natural beauty and deep heritage, shining a light on the cultural connection between the people of AlUla and the resources of the AlUla Oasis. Supported by friendly guides, guests explored this living landscape and discovered its stories through the prisms of art, heritage and nature.

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Remote AlUla

This 90-minute, site-specific immersive audio tour by Rimini Protokoll explored life, the past and the imagined future of AlUla. During the tour, guests were guided by a digital voice as they encountered the beauty of the AlUla Oasis and AlJadidah in an innovative and immersive theatre experience focused on AlUla.


Cinema ElHoush

The beautiful outdoor set-up of Cinema ElHoush offered the chance to enjoy a selection of world-class movies from Saudi, Arab and International directors. Cinema-goers grabbed local coffee with friends at the in-house café before their films and participated in engaging discussions with directors afterwards.

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Cortona On The Move

The first edition of the international photography festival Cortona On The Move for AlUla took place in AlJadidah. The 18 exhibited artist works wove seamlessly between Time, Life and Longing. These site-specific exhibitions were accompanied by guided tours, talks, screenings and training opportunities for budding photographers.

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Plan Your Trip To AlUla

Flying to AlUla

Qatar Airways, Saudia Airlines, flydubai and flynas all operate direct flights in and out of AlUla International Airport (ULH) from regional and international destinations. The beautifully renovated airport is a welcoming entrance into AlUla, though being a small airport, services are limited. Its location is just 30 km or a 30-minute drive from the city centre.

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What to Do

Unlock the secrets of this open-air museum, where an exciting collection of immersive experiences and activities bring its stories to life.

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Where to Eat

In AlUla there are many dining options to replenish your energy after a day of exploring. Casual to fine dining options are available.

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Where to Stay

Looking for a place to rest after a long day’s adventure? From high-end luxury to sustainable eco-resorts, AlUla offers a range of accommodation options.

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