Saudi desert art expo puts AlUla’s natural, cultural gems under global spotlight

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Over the past year AlUla has been welcoming artists to the desert site, and their art creations are aimed at providing visitors with works that reflect the rich culture of the area. (SPA photos)
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Over the past year AlUla has been welcoming artists to the desert site, and their art creations are aimed at providing visitors with works that reflect the rich culture of the area. (SPA photos)
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Over the past year AlUla has been welcoming artists to the desert site, and their art creations are aimed at providing visitors with works that reflect the rich culture of the area. (SPA photos)
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Over the past year AlUla has been welcoming artists to the desert site, and their art creations are aimed at providing visitors with works that reflect the rich culture of the area. (SPA photos)
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Over the past year AlUla has been welcoming artists to the desert site, and their art creations are aimed at providing visitors with works that reflect the rich culture of the area. (SPA photos)
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Over the past year AlUla has been welcoming artists to the desert site, and their art creations are aimed at providing visitors with works that reflect the rich culture of the area. (SPA photos)
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Over the past year AlUla has been welcoming artists to the desert site, and their art creations are aimed at providing visitors with works that reflect the rich culture of the area. (SPA photos)
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Over the past year AlUla has been welcoming artists to the desert site, and their art creations are aimed at providing visitors with works that reflect the rich culture of the area. (SPA photos)
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Over the past year AlUla has been welcoming artists to the desert site, and their art creations are aimed at providing visitors with works that reflect the rich culture of the area. (SPA photos)
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Updated 13 February 2020

Saudi desert art expo puts AlUla’s natural, cultural gems under global spotlight

  • The exhibition has taken its cue from the extraordinary landscape of the ancient site

RIYADH: A Saudi desert exhibition inspired by AlUla’s natural and historic surroundings has been taking the art world by storm.
Desert X AlUla, the first site-responsive contemporary art display of its kind in the Kingdom, has brought together an international collaboration of artists for a cross-cultural exploration of desert culture.
The expo, which runs until March 7, has taken its cue from the extraordinary landscape and historical significance of the ancient site.
Some of the artists taking part in the project have been involved in the creation of Desert X installations in California, and their experience has helped produce stunning artworks based on AlUla’s ancient civilizations, natural beauty, sands and rock formations.
The expo, which has been held in cooperation between the Royal Commission for AlUla and Desert X, is part of the Kingdom’s push to promote Saudi art and culture on the international stage.

The exhibition represents AlUla’s cultural spirit as we continue to preserve and promote its natural and historical marvels.

Amr Al-Madani, CEO of Royal Commission for AlUla

Over the past year AlUla has been welcoming artists to the desert site, and their art creations are aimed at providing visitors with works that reflect the rich culture of the area, where caravans once traveled the old incense road.
AlUla was built by successive civilizations over thousands of years and was a place for cultural exchange due to its location at the confluence of three continents, serving as a link between the East and the West. Desert X AlUla has been designed to bring that cultural heritage back to life.
Amr Al-Madani, the CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla, said: “Desert X AlUla has become a new element of AlUla’s heritage through the use of art’s transformative power. Through it, we can promote the link between different points of view and find new fruitful cultural exchange opportunities to enhance friendliness and understanding among people.
“The exhibition represents AlUla’s cultural spirit as we continue to preserve and promote its natural and historical marvels. Culture and heritage are of big importance and we are proud to have a royal commission that supports creativity and unleashes new forms of interaction between society and the world.”
The commission is working to revitalize, protect and preserve the region through a fundamental and sustainable transformation with the participation of the local population.
American artist Lita Albuquerque has taken part in Desert X AlUla with an installation called “Al-Najma” (Star), which recalls the cosmic myth of an astronaut that landed on Earth to spread light and knowledge as a symbol of the return of life and the birth of astronomy.

FASTFACTS

• The expo, which has been held in cooperation between the Royal Commission for AlUla and Desert X, is part of the Kingdom’s push to promote Saudi art and culture on the international stage.

• The exhibition will continue until March 7.

• Some of the artists taking part in the project have been involved in the creation of Desert X installations in California.

Rashed Al-Shashai, an artist from Saudi Arabia, has created an artwork titled “Concise Passage” that tells the story of the commercial caravans that have passed through the region down the ages.
Using 40 steel rings, Lebanese artist Ryan Tabet’s work focuses on the pipelines of the Arabian Pipeline and Services Co. which connect the Arabian Peninsula.
Riyadh-based Muhannad Shono’s “The Lost Path” display represents the Kingdom’s youth as the source of new energy flowing through the country along a decomposed pipeline semi-submerged under moving sand.
Saudi visual and land artist Zahrah Al-Ghamdi has produced “Glimpse from the Past,” a feature that highlights a sparkling flash from thousands of date boxes, once the agricultural treasure of AlUla.
Sarab’s art piece throws the spotlight on the fertility and generosity of AlUla’s oasis toward traders crossing the arid landscape, while Manal Al-Sawayan’s work features artificial lakes where objects and images fade into the natural landscape.


Turning a new leaf: Saudi Arabia’s Jazan region ditches qat crops for coffee trees

The growth of the educational landscape in the region, in addition to the success of the coffee industry, are some factors that help the authorities combat qat abuse. (SPA/Supplied)
Updated 24 February 2020

Turning a new leaf: Saudi Arabia’s Jazan region ditches qat crops for coffee trees

  • The Khawlani coffee bean is being offered to UNESCO for inclusion on a heritage list

JAZAN: Efforts to draw the younger generation in the Kingdom’s Jazan region away from the harmful and addictive substance qat are succeeding, with even the crop being replaced by coffee trees to support the booming coffee business.
Qat, a plant that is native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, is a stimulant that triggers excitement and alertness. But it can also cause anxiety, insomnia and aggravate pre-existing mental health conditions.
It grew in the Jazan region along with coffee trees. But the strength of the coffee industry, combined with an increased awareness about the harmful nature of qat, has led to its gradual disappearance.
The governor of Al-Dayer, Nayef bin Lebdah, said the people of Jazan were proud of the Khawlani coffee bean. He also said that coffee beans were much more economically beneficial than qat.
“All newly planted qat trees have been completely uprooted,” he told Arab News. “All the people have found that planting coffee beans is much more feasible and rewarding than qat. Attempts to smuggle qat have also dropped thanks to the security efforts along the border with Yemen. Add to that, young people themselves have concluded that their future will be in coffee beans.”
Teacher Yahiya Shareef Al-Maliki viewed qat as an “intruder’’ and said the coffee tree was the region’s indigenous product.
“In 1970, there were only four people who used to chew qat in the entire governorate,” he told Arab News. “It then started to become common among the people here in 1995 due to opening the borders that caused importing qat from abroad.”

FASTFACTS

• In 2014, people reconsidered coffee as an alternative crop and young people started to grow coffee beans with the help of unlimited support from the governorate.

• Some 50,000 seedlings were distributed and farmers began to restore the profession of their fathers.

• The governorate replanted more than 10,000 genuine Khawlani coffee seedlings and gave them to the farmers.

The increase in qat cultivation affected the planting of coffee beans, he added, but in 2014 people reconsidered coffee as an alternative crop and young people started to grow coffee beans with the help of unlimited support from the governorate. “Some 50,000 seedlings were distributed and farmers began to restore the profession of their fathers.”
People in Jazan used to waste their time and money on qat, he said. They would gather and chew qat for many hours, he added, hours that could have been spent working. But the growth of the educational landscape in the region, in addition to the success of the coffee industry, was a factor in combating qat abuse, as young people were able to access more opportunities and improve their prospects.
The Khawlani coffee bean is being offered to UNESCO for inclusion on a heritage list.
“The preparation of the file related to the skills and knowledge pertaining to the cultivation of Khawlani coffee in the Jazan region has been completed before presenting it to UNESCO,” the Kingdom’s Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah said. If listed, he added, it would be the Kingdom’s fourth intangible cultural heritage and eighth among the total heritage items included in the UNESCO heritage list.
Saudi columnist Hamood Abu Talib said the Jazan region was the only place the beans were grown. “This festival (Coffee Beans Festival), which is being held in collaboration with the governorate (of Jazan), the farmers themselves and Aramco, is an important national economic investment,” he told Arab News.
“Many countries’ economies, such as Brazil and Ethiopia depend mainly on this product — coffee. It needs professional marketing through the media to attract visitors from inside and outside the Kingdom. This is an essential strategic transformation.
“We know that the Faifa Mountains Development and Reconstruction Authority’s strategic goal was to uproot the harmful trees of qat and replace them with profitable crops that are beneficial to the farmers as well as the whole region. These were also intruding, invasive trees. We replanted more than 10,000 genuine Khawlani coffee seedlings and gave them to the farmers.”