Saudi Arabia’s art scene is prospering – from a slew of new museum openings, to high-profile art events and big names collaborating on projects in the kingdom. The spotlight is very much on its cultural offerings nationwide.
An example can be found in the historically significant region of AlUla. Back in 2017, the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) was established to specifically develop the arts within this north-west region of the country. Manifesting that vision of the region’s art transformation meant that in June, plans were revealed for new permanent art installations for Wadi AlFann in AlUla. Wadi AlFann translated as Valley of the Arts, spans 65 sq km and will open in 2024.
Saudi artists Manal AlDowayan and Ahmed Mater, as well as American artists Agnes Denes, Michael Heizer, and James Turrell were commissioned for the first five artworks in Wadi AlFann which will explore themes such as collective memory, folklore, myth, civilisation, mirage, the materiality of light and perception.
“Several factors have influenced the selection process, such as the artist’s ability to respond to the desert as a geological landscape and complex ecosystem, sensitivity to dessert communities, use of local materials, openness to mentoring local youth and offering masterclasses. Wadi AlFann also works closely with an advisory panel, comprising of internationally recognised arts and culture experts, who review and advise on proposed work,” said Nora Aldabal, executive director of Arts and Creative Industries at the RCU.
Although Wadi AlFann is slated to open in 2024, starting later this year itself will be a pre-opening programme that will illustrate what is to come. It will include temporary exhibitions, public symposia and artist residencies too. There will also be tours through the valley, and educational opportunities for local communities within the region including sessions with art professionals and masterclasses with Wadi AlFann’s artists. The commissioning of the first five artworks is only the beginning, as Aldabal notes, and more artists will be invited from around the world to be a part of AlUla’s art renaissance.
In an interesting move, Iwona Blazwick was recently appointed as chair of the Royal Commission for AlUla’s Public Art Expert Panel. Eventually, Wadi AlFann will play an integral role in AlUla’s Journey Through Time masterplan which Aldabal describes as “an innovative and environmentally focused project that will transform AlUla into a global destination for heritage, arts, culture and nature.” She adds, “Wadi AlFann is one of 15 new cultural assets including museums, galleries and cultural centres that will open in AlUla by 2035. Other milestones include the opening of the new contemporary art museum, Perspectives Galleries in 2024, as well as the launch of The Water Pavilions, a cluster of experiences and events inspired by the interaction between the people of AlUla and the resources of the Oasis.”