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The AlUla landscape in northwestern Saudi Arabia. Courtesy of the Royal Commission for AlUla.
The AlUla landscape in northwestern Saudi Arabia. Courtesy of the Royal Commission for AlUla.

Desert X Releases Artist List for Controversial Exhibition in Saudi Arabia

Desert X AlUla, the inaugural outdoor sculpture exhibition taking place in Saudi Arabia from January 31 to March 7, 2020, has released its list of participating artists. Cocurated by Saudi curators Raneem Farsi and Aya Alireza with Desert X artistic director Neville Wakefield, the exhibition will feature works by Manal AlDowayan, Nasser AlSalem, Gisela Colon, Nadim Karam, eL Seed, and Superflex.

“Artists are at the center of this exhibition conceived to foster artistic exchange and dialogue across continents,” said Farsi. The diversity of backgrounds, concepts, and themes found in this exhibition affirms the power of art in creating cultural exchange beyond geographic boundaries. Alongside international and regional artists, Desert X AlUla gives voice to Saudi Arabia’s dynamic artistic community, cultivating new audiences for contemporary art in the country. Many of the works on view are informed by the multiple layers of history shaping the region and through exhibitions like this, we are working towards a more inclusive future through art.”

Desert X, the biennial of large-scale works which staged its first edition in California’s Coachella Valley in 2017, came under scrutiny when it first announced that it was collaborating with Saudi Arabia to bring an exhibition to the country’s northwest AlUla region. The move prompted three members of its board of directors, Ed Ruscha, Yael Lipschutz, and Tristan Milanovich, to resign and led the MaddocksBrown Foundation, one of Desert X’s donors, to withdraw funding from the exhibition in October 2019. Those opposed to the partnership have cited Saudi Arabia’s growing record of human rights abuses and the assassination of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. 

The full list of participating artists is as follows:

Lita Albuquerque (b. 1946, US, based in Santa Monica)
Manal AlDowayan (b. 1973, Saudi Arabia, based in Dubai)
Zahrah AlGhamdi (b.1977, Saudi Arabia, based in Jeddah)
Nasser AlSalem b. (b.1984, Saudi Arabia, based in Jeddah)
Rashed AlShashai (b. 1977, Saudi Arabia, based in Jeddah)
Gisela Colon (b. 1966, Puerto Rico, based in LA)
Sherin Guirguis (b. 1974, Egypt, based in LA)
Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim (b. 1962, UAE, based in Khorfakkan)
Nadim Karam (b. 1957 Lebanon, based in Beirut)
eL Seed (b. 1981, France, based in Dubai)
Wael Shawky (b. 1971, Egypt, based in Alexandria and Philadelphia)
Muhannad Shono (b. 1977, Saudi Arabia, based in Riyadh)
Superflex (founded 1993, Denmark, based in Copenhagen)
Rayyane Tabet (b. 1983, Lebanon, based in Beirut)