Via Grazia Middle East
Thanks to the epic inaugural edition of Desert X AlUla, 14 impressive structures were unveiled in AlUla, a historic oasis valley in the northwestern region of Saudi Arabia. The works at the free-to-attend art biennial taking place until March 7 are dotted around the region that has been described as an “open living museum.” The 14 participating artists were asked to mull over the history of the mystical region with sandstone cliffs, sand valleys and huge rocks. And eL Seed ’s Mirage installation, perhaps the contemporary Arabic calligraffiti artist’s most striking project yet, is one of the beautiful works inspired by the many stories AlUla offers, in this case one to do with a lost love that dates back to the 7th Century.
For the site-responsive exhibition, the French-Tunisian’s large calligraphic sculpture is inspired by classical Arabic love poet Jameel Bin Ma'mar , who was part of the Banu ' Udhra tribe, renowned for its poetic tradition of innocent love. Jameel fell in love with Lady Buthayna, who was from a neighbouring tribe, however he could not marry her as Buthayna’s people felt the poet's verses about their love had compromised her honour. Although Buthayna was forced to marry another man, they couldn’t help staying in love, and Jameel kept visiting her in Wadi ‘ l -Kura (AlUla) and writing verses about his longing.
The words “If only the prime of the youth were new and old times come back, Buthayna, should my poetry spend a night in Wadi Al Qura, then I’m happy,” summarise the love the poet had for the region and eL Seed choose them to “shed new emphasis on it to residents as well as visitors,” as he explained in an Instagram post. The Dubai-based artist also wrote: “The words come from within the heart of the region and are, in many ways, an ode not only to one woman, but to nature itself. Mirage acts as a metaphor for the love Jameel had for Buthayna; a love so infinite, ever longing to be reached and grasped, like a mirage.”
In another Instagram post, the renowned artist who has created other triumphant works in unlikely landscapes like the slums of Cairo and Jara Mosque ’s minaret in his hometown of Gabes, explained why he kept the calligraphic form sand coloured.
“When I visited AlUla a few months ago for the first time, I realised that there is no way I could compete with nature. The beauty of the place left me speechless and humbled me. I usually use striking colours making sure my art work doesn't go unnoticed. In AlUla, I had to surrender and create something that wouldn't clash with the environment but blend in, disappear, almost impossible to grasp, like a mirage.”
The Desert X sculpture biennial initially launched in California’s Coachella Valley in 2017. The founding Desert X director, Neville Wakefield, along with Saudis Raneem Farsi and Aya Alireza curated the Saudi version. Desert X AlUla, which also features works by Saudis Zarah Al Ghamdi and Nasser Al Salem, Egyptian-born Wael Shawky and the Danish collective Superflex , was organised in collaboration with the Royal Commission for AlUla, the Saudi governmental body led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.