DUBAI: In the ancient desert lands of AlUla, now one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest tourist attractions, six artists have spent the last three months creating works as part of the area’s first art residency program.
Under the theme “The Oasis Reborn”, the cohort coming from the Kingdom, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, France and Algeria has since the beginning of November been immersed in AlUla’s ancient sites, natural oases and varied landscapes in lush valleys. , sandstone mountains, red rocks, gorges and velvety dunes.
Their mission has been to create art that unites the area’s rich cultural heritage with its sumptuous natural environment.
They have worked with technical, scientific and archaeological experts to develop the natural oasis into a 50 square kilometer hospitality, heritage and cultural venture. The artists also joined local artisans and cultural practitioners to learn about AlUla’s rich heritage.
The residency initiative was conceived by officials from the Royal Commission on AlUla and the French Agency for AlUla Development and was run by Manifesto, a French creative agency set up to help companies with artistic projects.
Laure Confavreux-Colliex, CEO of Manifesto, told Arab News: “The aim of this residency program was to work with the six artists selected from different backgrounds and different practices to become involved through art in the development and regeneration of AlUla. .
“The theme dedicated to ‘The Oasis Reborn’ means that we dig into these questions about what is in the oasis, what has been in the oasis and how to bring the oasis’ history and heritage to light so that AlUla can be recreated.
“Our goal at Manifesto was to create these connections between the artists and the local AlUla community.”
The first edition took place in Mabiti AlUla, a palm grove and guest house in the heart of AlUla’s oasis. The next edition will be held at Madrasat AdDeera, an art and design center that will become a key area in the future Arts District of AlUla, a cluster of educational and art programs aimed at providing an active and vibrant destination for communities, students, artists and visitors.
The first cohort of artists-in-residence began collaborating with local artisans through the programs held at Madrasat AdDeera.
The Saudi artist Rashed Al-Shashai’s installation, “Thuraya”, suspended over a pool of water and nestled between a palm grove, draws connections between modern science and the ancient past.
It is made of natural materials from the oasis and is colored red with golden lanterns on each side that at night cast reflections on the water and illuminate the area.
Al-Shashai told Arab News that his play had been inspired by the importance of the stars to the lives of farmers.
He said, “My grandfather used to take me to perform the Fajr prayer. I remember the way we used to go together. When he spoke to me, he always looked at the sky, at the star, at Thuraya and its position in the sky. “Farmers have always been guided by its location in the sky to start planting or harvesting. That was the beginning of my inspiration for my installation.”
The cycle of death and renewal in the oasis was the focus of Muhannad Shono’s work, “On This Holy Day”, with the smoke rising from the installation, representing the stories of coming and going, loss and remembrance.
He said: “It is a ceremonial piece that transcribes the journey of plants, ashes, smoke and sky, in other words a cycle of death and renewal that takes place inside a living oasis. It also questions targeted change. , transformations and influences to protect themselves from fires that may try to reduce the world to ashes. “
The French artist Sara Favriau’s artwork, entitled “The Oasis is a Wadi Raised to the Sky”, has three shapes and three different steps corresponding to three related moments: Small sculptures called “Trifles and Trinkets”, a filmed performance entitled “A Never-Ending Day, “and an installation called” Mobius Strip. ” The artist created the trio of forms to question the notion of a garden in the desert and more specifically of the oasis, imagining the planet as an expansive garden with the human and animal kingdoms united as one.
The French-Algerian artist Sofiane si Merabet saw the oasis as a “motherly environment” that had nourished people through time.
Entitled “It’s Not Early Anymore”, his work reflects on the recent development of the oasis AlUla and the excitement surrounding wedding parties. Located in a small one-story building on an oasis farm, he has produced a multimedia installation that captures the Saudi traditions of Tagagat, or female wedding singers, and regional elements documenting city signs and shops referring to 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 of AlUla, is a very powerful way to document the sociology of the oasis, the current dynamics of change and how both are connected to space.
“The oasis as a motherly space, nourishing, full of greenery, and the desert, it reminds me of the dichotomy one can find during weddings: a mirror of how interactions between genders or different social groups occur.
“This work searches for the duration of local traditions and questions the importance of preservation and authenticity, and how they can be reinvented,” he added.
Talin Hazbar, an artist born in Syria and based in the United Arab Emirates, created “Earth Readings”, a work that explores the myriad of relationships between past and present, the imperceptible and the material. The work dives into the meaning of the land through “marking and map-making narratives.”
She said: “I worked with a living material that can be reshaped, reshaped, reconstructed, and that is constantly adapting and evolving. It becomes a trace of its longevity and of its space, while at the same time becoming a key to understanding. AlUla in its own elements, stories and practices. “
In a powerful nod to the AlUla oasis ‘expansive and varied landscape, the French artist Laura Sellies’ “Populated by Moving Leaves” shows an installation consisting of sculptures, sounds and texts. She said it invoked a “palace of memories” where 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 over three days with open studios in January and will be exhibited during the AlUla Arts Festival, which takes place from 13 to 26 February.
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