DUBAI: In the former desert lands of AlUla, now one of Saudi Arabia’s top tourist attractions, six artists have spent the past three months creating work as part of the region’s first artist residency program .
Under the theme “The Oasis Reborn”, the cohort originating from the Kingdom, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, France and Algeria, has, since the beginning of November, been immersed in the ancient sites of AlUla, its natural oases and its varied landscapes of lush valleys. , sandstone mountains, red rock cliffs, canyons and velvety sand dunes.
Their mission has been to create art that marries the region’s rich cultural heritage with its abundant natural environment.
They worked in collaboration with technical, scientific and archaeological experts to transform the natural oasis into a 50 square kilometer hotel, heritage and cultural enterprise. The artists also connected with local community artisans and cultural practitioners to learn more about AlUla’s rich heritage.
The residency initiative was designed by officials from the Royal Commission for AlUla and the French Agency for the Development of AlUla, and was managed by Manifesto, a French creative agency set up to help companies with projects artistic.
Laure Confavreux-Colliex, executive director of Manifesto, told Arab News: “The objective of this residency program was to work with the six artists chosen from different backgrounds and practices to be involved through art in the development and the regeneration of AlUla.
“The dedicated theme for ‘The Oasis Reborn’ means we dig into these questions of what is in the oasis, what has been in the oasis, and how to shed light on the history and heritage of the oasis so that AlUla can be regenerated.
“Our goal at Manifesto was to create these connections between artists and the local AlUla community.”
The first edition took place at Mabiti AlUla, palm grove and guest house in the heart of the oasis of AlUla. The next edition will be held at Madrasat AdDeera, an art and design center set to become a key space in the future AlUla Arts District, a set of educational and artistic programs aimed at providing an active and dynamic destination for communities , students, artists. , and visitors.
The first cohort of artists in residence began collaborations with local artisans through the programs held at Madrasat AdDeera.
Suspended over a pool of water and positioned between a grove of palm trees, Saudi artist Rashed Al-Shashai’s installation “Thuraya” draws connections between modern science and the ancient past.
Created from natural materials from the oasis, it is colored red with golden lanterns on each side which, at night, cast reflections on the water and illuminate the area.
Al-Shashai told Arab News that his article was inspired by the importance of stars in the lives of farmers.
He said, “My grandfather used to take me with him to perform the Fajr prayer. I remember the path we used to walk together. When he spoke to me, he always looked at the sky, the star, the Thuraya and its position in the sky. Farmers have always been guided by its location in the sky to start planting or harvesting. It was the beginning of my inspiration for my installation.
The cycle of death and renewal in the oasis was central to Muhannad Shono’s work, ‘On This Sacred Day’, with smoke rising from the installation depicting the stories of comings and goings, loss and remembrance.
He said: “It’s a ceremonial piece that captures the journey of plant, ash, smoke and sky, in other words, a cycle of death and renewal that takes place inside inside a living oasis. It also questions deliberate change, transformation and impacts to guard against the fires that may seek to burn the world to ashes.
The work of the French artist Sara Favriau, entitled “The Oasis is a wadi raised towards the sky”, takes three forms and three distinct stages corresponding to three linked moments: small sculptures called “Ballelettes et bibelots”, a performance filmed titled “An Endless Day”, and an installation called “Mobius Strip”. The artist created the trio of shapes to interrogate the notion of the desert garden and, more specifically, the oasis, envisioning the planet as an expansive garden where the human and animal kingdoms are one.
French-Algerian artist Sofiane si Merabet considered the oasis a “maternal environment” that had nurtured humans through time.
Titled ‘It’s Not Earlier’, her work reflects the recent development of AlUla Oasis and the excitement surrounding wedding celebrations. Housed in a small one-story building on an oasis farm, he produced a multimedia installation capturing Saudi traditions of the Tagagat, or wedding singers, and regional elements documenting urban signs and shops referencing weddings.
Si Merabet told Arab News that AlUla was also known as the “bride of the mountains”.
He said, “Working closely with Nujood, the only Tagaga in AlUla, is a very powerful way to document the sociology of the oasis, the current dynamics of change and how the two relate to spaces.
“The oasis as a maternal, nurturing space, full of greenery, and the desert reminds me of the dichotomy that can be found in weddings: a mirror of the way in which interactions between genders or different groups occur. social.
“This work seeks the permanence of local traditions and questions the meaning of preservation and authenticity and how they can be reinvented,” he added.
Talin Hazbar, a Syrian-born artist based in the United Arab Emirates, created “Earth Readings”, a piece exploring the myriad relationships between the past and the present, the imperceptible and the material. The work delves into the meaning of the land through “stories of marking and mapping”.
She said, “I worked with living matter that can be reshaped, reworked, rebuilt, and is constantly adapting and evolving. It becomes a trace of its life and space while also becoming a key to understanding AlUla in its own elements, stories and practices.
In a powerful nod to the vast and varied landscape of the AlUla oasis, “Populated by Moving Leaves” by French artist Laura Sellies presents an installation composed of sculptures, sounds and texts. She said it invoked a “palace of memories” in which the metal structures invite visitors to listen to the voices of the oasis – both real and fictional – including women, men, birds, camels , winds, water, rocks and sand.
The artists’ works were presented to the public during three days of open workshops in January and will be exhibited during the AlUla Arts festival which will take place from February 13 to 26.