In the small desert town of Al Ula in Saudi Arabia, a large ziggurat made from blue plastic crates stands at a height of 15 meters in the middle of a sandy valley. Dramatic and playful yet with a deeply resonant message, the work, by Saudi Arabian artist Rashed Al Shashai, and others on display reference the travel and cultural exchange that once occurred here—and perhaps can be reignited through artworks and discourse.
Al Shashai’s artwork, titled A Concise Package, speaks about the town’s history as a stop on the incense trade route that wound through the region, sheltering travelers from the harsh desert climate in the mountains. This work is part of the inaugural Desert X Al Ula, an art exhibition that, despite some controversy over its connection with the Saudi government, is proposing new ways of making and displaying art in the region.
Desert X Al Ula was organized collaboratively by the Desert Biennial, a California-based nonprofit that produces the site-specific art exhibition Desert X in that state’s Coachella Valley, and the Royal Commission for Al Ula, a Saudi government body which seeks to develop a variety of tourism experiences to attract visitors to the picturesque town, about a three-hour drive northwest of Medina.