International artists named for ambitious AlUla valley installations project

A rendering of Ahmed Mater's work at Wadi AlFann. (Supplied)
A rendering of Ahmed Mater's work at Wadi AlFann. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 June 2022

International artists named for ambitious AlUla valley installations project

A rendering of Ahmed Mater's work at Wadi AlFann. (Supplied)

DUBAI: An international lineup of artists has been named as the first group to embark on an ambitious large-scale installations project in AlUla’s Wadi AlFann.

The Royal Commission for AlUla announced that US artists James Turrell, Agnes Denes, and Michael Heizer will be joined by Saudi creative pioneers Ahmed Mater and Manal Al-Dowayan to produce artworks in the new Wadi AlFann valley, covering an area of 65 square kilometers. The projects will be unveiled from 2024.

Meanwhile, the former director of the Whitechapel Gallery in London, Iwona Blazwick, has been named as the chair of the commission’s public art expert panel, that will advise on Wadi AlFann.

She told Arab News that the artists would create, “works that I think will be a 21st-century version of the ambition of the Nabataeans. This is work at such a scale by artists of such global caliber and by artists who have revolutionized sculpture.”

Visual artist Mater’s installation for the valley, “Ashab Al-Lal,” will use a subterranean tunnel and mirrors to give visitors the optical illusion of seeing a mirage, while Al-Dowayan’s “The Oasis of Stories” will be a labyrinthine structure inspired by the mud homes of AlUla’s ancient old town.

Wadi AlFann, AlUla. (Supplied)

Denes, 91, will create a series of soaring pointed pyramids in a bid to explore civilization, advancement, and achievement.

Heizer, known for producing large outdoor earthwork sculptures and for his work with rock, concrete, and steel, will produce lineal engravings in the sandstone rock relating directly to the geology of the area and the varied detail of the Quweira sandstone.

Blazwick said: “He (Heizer) is incising into the rocks at a scale and at a kind of ambition that again relates back to petroglyphs and ancient forms of expressions and civilizations, but in a way that is 21st century.”

Meanwhile, Turrell will build upon the sensorial experience of space, color, and perception by creating a series of spaces within the canyon floor. The viewer will explore these spaces via a series of tunnels and stairs.

A sketch of AlDowayan’s “The Oasis of Stories.” (Supplied)

“If we are looking at these five initial works themselves you have something tremendously monumental but also immersive, resonate, and poetic and these will be destinations in their own rights of such beauty.

“In relation to the drama of the place itself, the works really take us to the sublime. These five commissions are going to be in themselves unique in the world at this scale. Most of these artists we know from single works shown in different parts of the world, so to bring them together is a huge achievement,” Blazwick added.

On the global nature of the artists, she said: “This is a reciprocal relationship — it is not just about artists being parachuted in, but about making works inspired by the place and the people.

“We will see high-profile international artists, but alongside their regional peers. We will see some of the most important artists working in the region take their place alongside these very iconic, high-profile figures from the world of art. I think that reciprocity is crucial to this project,” she added.