Al Ula, Saudi Arabia – The artistic crowd from Kochila reached the Saudi desert, and the number of elegant cages exceeded the colors of the cloak on the sand. In a buffet decorated with carved flower-shaped melons, the waiters tended to the fresh juice station and rows of delicious appetizers. Across the valley of sandstone with gold and Russians, Brownian rock formations have spread in contemporary art: an iridescent statue resembling a spaceship, a bright metallic tunnel, and a spherical bright spherical field.
These were the fruits of Desert X AlUla, a partnership between Desert X, a two-year arts period in California that organized two previous exhibitions in the Coachella Valley, and the Saudi government, which persuaded Desert X to set up a show in its west. Desert at the expense of the country.
Controversy ensued, as is the case when Saudi Arabia – whose government hacked the iPhone from one of the richest men in the world – tortured dissidents, cut up a critical journalist and helped spark a humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen – interfered with Western institutions. Three members of the Desert X board of directors, including prominent artist Ed Ruscha, resigned in protest. Art critic of the Los Angeles Times, Christopher Knight, scathed Collaborating “morally rotten” as “just putting lipstick on piggy”.
For the Saudis, the benefits were clear. Until recently, many Saudis avoided the graves of rocks that were present in Al Ula in Al Ula, motivated by the pious superstitions they were chasing, and non-Muslim tourists who wanted to visit the country found no way at all. Now, in the Crown Prince, the campaign of Muhammad bin Salman Opening Saudi society and expanding its economy beyond oil, may it be embodied to be the star of cultural attraction and heritage in the Kingdom. Officials hope to withdraw miles from the picturesque desert and ancient Petra tombs of two million tourists by 2035.
there will be resort Designed by Jean Nouvel. There will be a nature reserve and an attempt to reproduce species like the Arabian tiger. There will be a permanent arts district, With desert X, until March 7As the first hurray.
“It has nothing to do with politics,” said Omar al-Madani, the Riyadh-based executive director who oversees the development of Al-Ula, at a welcome dinner the night before the show opened.
The crowd applauded. But he turned his heads the Western business tyrants and others Quote When it comes to Saudi Arabia: engagement may push the kingdom toward a more modern and free society. Cultural and economic dialogue can serve as a kind of “can opener”, as an artist from the tenth desert desert, Jacob Wenger, of the Danish Society Superflex, put it.
He said, “Culture and politics are all part of the same thing.” If you think art can change things, you should do so. Nothing will happen unless you do something. “
Of course, a similar argument attracted Westerners to China as it opened up to foreign companies decades ago, gambling that their influence would ultimately free the country from abroad. But China’s tolerance for freedom of expression and human rights has only diminished, and its government is now in deep confrontation with American businessmen and political leaders.
At the opening of Desert X, the discussion was a heady cocktail of erasing borders, tearing down walls and filling gaps.
Raneem Farsi, one of the two lists in Saudi Arabia, said the exhibition was “a ship that crossed all borders, exceeding time.”
But Manal Al-Doyan, An artist from Dubai stood up, “You Are See Me, Now You Don’t”, out of reach at a high-level news conference.
“Throw it all out,” she said. They talked about building bridges. I do not know that. Here we just make art. “
Although the site is new, the five Saudi artists in the exhibition crossed borders and bridges; like many other Saudi artists, they have lived, studied, or exhibited in Europe or the United States. (The remaining nine artists in the exhibition are from the Middle East or reside in the United States or Europe). However, the Tenth Desert Leaders proudly talked about their efforts to include locals, such as holding Saudi art workshops or making them entrance to the fair for free.
For Saudi Arabia, which has covered the travel expenses of artists, Desert X is as much a drive for profit as it is a meeting of ideas. Al-Madani said that the government hoped that tourism would constitute three-quarters of the economy of the Al-Ula region by 2030. He said that more than 50,000 tourists attended in 2019, including visitors to a music festival featuring Andrea Bocelli, the Italian tenor, and Lang Lang, the pianist Chinese.
Although analysts questioned whether foreign tourists would want to visit a country with an alcohol ban, customs mixing gender mixing and the reputation of authoritarian oppression, Mr. Madani believed they would come in large numbers. He said that if there is anything, there is a danger of overcrowding, which threatens the antique jewelry in the region and its natural beauty.
The first followers are already here, ready to visit the crowded sites that no one has ever returned to Instagrammed.
“I feel it is a preview,” said Tomoya Tsuruta, a Japanese tourist in an ancient Al-Ula ruins, who decided to visit Saudi Arabia after making an online offer. Tourist visas for citizens of 49 countries last year. “I feel proud to visit before other people come.”
In the small, dusty Al-Ula, a city of 45,000 people where the economy revolves around government jobs and small fruit plantations, development means unexpected prosperity.
The government committee overseeing the development of the region has awarded scholarships to 500 local residents to study abroad and has sent dozens of local guides and hospitality personnel to be trained in Europe and the United States, all of them to prepare for tourists.
Hamid al-Imam, one of the guides hired for tours of a valley with thousands of ancient Nabatean rock carvings, said that his father, sister and uncle all worked on the committee. A friend of mine had trained at a culinary school in France, at government expense, before returning to work as a cook in a new restaurant. People who were left to work elsewhere were returning.
“All other cities are jealous of us,” said Allam. However, he was not sure that the tourists and jobs would come in huge numbers that the government had expected.
He joked, “As Hamid, I don’t know.” “But as Hamid, with the royal commission? Yes I think so!”
Beyond the offer of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to host and PayIt is rare in contemporary art, and the benefits of cooperation are more gauze to the tenth desert. (The organization did not reveal the amount.) Susan Davis, its founder and chair, drew the exhibition as an opportunity for Westerners to learn more about Saudi society behind newspaper headlines and stereotypes, and for Saudis to discover the world of Western art.
And she said, “Engaging people, and being able to start this conversation, was something we were brave enough to confront, and I think brave people is the word.”
Although Ms. Davis said that art and politics are “two completely different fields”, she acknowledged that politics is dependent on the decision to work with Saudi Arabia.
She said, “I don’t know it” will have an effect, but that is our hope. We are not thinking of changing policy now. After having the conversation, I think it’s a first step. “
When asked about her criticism that she was helping to bleach the stained reputation of Saudi Arabia, Ms. Davis protested, “We are a small organization. She is not a Metropolitan Museum.” She said she was ready to close the Desert X if the controversy was too big.
But she was already convinced that the Saudi invasion was successful. She said that most of her moved to her was a statue of a dark blue woman sitting on a huge rock, examining a blue volcano scattered on the sand: “Lita Albuquerque” star (she put a thousand suns on transparent overlays of space). “
According to Desert X, this was the first statue of a woman on display in modern Saudi Arabia, where Islamic tradition discourages figurative representation.
Mrs. Albuquerque, an American artist who appeared as a star in her previous works, said that she agreed to wear the carved woman in an abaya after a Saudi official expressed reservations about the appropriate costume for the woman.
Ms. Davis added that although some might call her government interference, she saw it as a matter of cultural sensitivity – not unlike, by rejecting proposals to establish works of art in the sacred indigenous areas around Kochila.
This was an opportunity to work with the local weavers who convinced Sherine Gerges To participate despite her doubts, she said. Mrs. Gerges, an Egyptian-American artist residing in Los Angeles, held textile workshops and contemporary art lectures for women in Al-Ula. Her work there and elsewhere aims to restore the belated appreciation of traditional handicrafts for Arab women, and she said that going to meet young Saudi artists was at least a starting point for opening her mind and their work.
Maybe it will do something, maybe not.
“From a Western perspective, it is very easy to look at the politics of the place and government anywhere, and make those decisions to reject it, and the people who are affected are the people we claim to want to help.” She said. “Does the work I have done there makes the world’s smallest aberration and helps push things forward? I hope so.”