Everything you need to know about the second edition of Desert X AlUla

Taking place from February 11 to March 30, the site-specific contemporary art exhibition explores ideas of mirage and oasis…

Art lovers and desert nomads, it’s time to venture out to the Kingdom’s majestic region with the contemporary art exhibition. After a short hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the international, open-air art event Desert X AlUla is back. Here’s what you need to know about the second edition of Desert X AlUla.

Desert X AlUla Rashed Al Shashai

What is Desert X AlUla?

If you happened to miss the social media buzz about the inaugural exhibition in 2020, we got you. This year’s event, which will take place from February 11 and runs through to March 30, takes the theme of Sarab, meaning “mirage” in Arabic.

A collaboration between California-born Desert X and the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), the exhibition presents large-scale public artworks exploring the ideas of mirage and oasis, each cleverly curated around the stunning ancient formations in AlUla.

Desert X AlUla 2022 site

Desert X AlUla 2022 has been brought to life in a new location this year, found within a valley where visitors can wander through and explore each artwork in a series of spectacular canyons.

Plus, it is free and open to the public.

What to expect?

Desert X AlUla provides an excellent opportunity to see various international artists and one-of-a-kind installations in a natural setting. It’s one of the most unique living art exhibits you’ve been to – and it’s designed that way for a reason.

The theme for this year’s edition is Sarab, meaning “mirage” in Arabic, and it’s a duo of sub-themes: mirage and oasis – both eternally linked to the desert and regarded as having complex global significance – that the collection of artworks explore.

The first site-responsive exhibition of its kind in Saudi Arabia, it fosters dialogue and exchange between artists, curators and international and local communities, shaped by a curatorial vision that takes the desert as its inspiration.

This year’s Desert X AlUla been expertly curated by Reem Fadda, Raneem Farsi and Neville Wakefield, all of whom agree that the real curator of this year’s exhibition is the desert itself. “The desert concepts of mirage and oasis have long been tied to ideas of survival, perseverance, desire and wealth,” says Reem Fadda, the curatorial advisor to Desert X AlUla 2022, says. “The oasis pertains to ideas of finding prosperity or heaven, while the mirage is a universal symbol of the mysteries of imagination and reality.”

“They also connote the incomprehensible beauty and abundance of nature in its most bereft state – the desert – and humans’ obsessive desire to capture and control it.”

The art

A total of 15 regional and international artists have been invited to curate pieces for this year’s Desert X AlUla, bringing their global interpretations of a duo of explorative themes. Here are just some of the highlights…

Alicja Kwade

Providing one of the more photo-friendly backdrops for Desert X AlUla goers is Polish-born, Berlin-based Alicja Kwade, whose series of frames and mirrors reflect and frame the natural artefacts on the desert floor. Sitting firmly on the fine line between reality and illusion, desert objects have been carefully arranged to offer ever-changing perspectives.

Serge Attukwei Clottey

An acclaimed Ghanian artist, Serge Attukwei Clottey’s ‘Gold Falls’ is an incredible tapestry of pieces of yellow kufour gallons, the plastic containers used to hold and transport water across Ghana. Laced together within his local community in Ghana, the installation shrouds a section of dramatic rock face, provoking questions on globalisation, migration and water equity. “I’m an artist that creates from the heart,” says Clottey.

Zeinab AlHeshmi

Dubai-based artist and sculpture Zeinab AlHeshmi sourced discarded camel hides locally in Al Ain for her duo of tactile pieces designed to mirror the rock formations they stand proudly infront of. Describing her first visit to AlUla as striking, AlHeshmi says that once she saw the dramatic rock formations, she changed her idea. “I’m moved by geometry,” she explains of the way the sculptures have been designed to merge into the mountains beyond.

Khalil Rabah

Displaced from their original homes, sourced from all over the world, Khalil Rabah creates his mirage through an orchard of olive trees. Surviving, but out of place and craving their indigenous land, the Palestinian artist evokes ideas of survival, citizenship and a sense of home.

Abdullah AlOthman

Seeking to recreate the experience of seeing a mirage for the first time, Abdullah AlOthman’s dazzling stainless steel creation interacts with light to provide different perspectives and reflections depending on the time of day and location it’s viewed from. It references theories of light refraction that root back to early desert existence.

How to experience Desert X AlUla

Of course, the free-to-visit exhibition invites visitors to discover the exhibition as they wish, taking three hours – or three days – to visit and experience the immersive pieces. For those looking to go a little deeper, there are 75-minute guided walking tours taking place twice daily, hosted by the resident ‘Haki AlFann’, the Desert X team of art storytellers. On weekends, a two-hour, family-friendly exploration of the awe-inspiring artworks including activity trails and hands-on discovery also takes place and is free to attend.


Images: Provided and What’s On