Render of Ashab Al-Lal by Ahmed Mater at Wadi AlFann. Image Credit: RCU

About 1,100km from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, deep in a desert region full of natural and human history dating back thousands of years, Al Ula valley is home to archaeological sites and is the Kingdom’s first UNESCO world heritage site. Now Al Ula is also a Valley of the Arts, safeguarded by the The Royal Commission for Al Ula (RCU) as one of the country’s most important cultural destinations within its commitment to tourism, education, and the arts as part of Saudi’s Vision 2030.

Spanning 65 square kilometres, the Valley of the Arts is described as “an awe-inspiring new global cultural destination for contemporary art, where era-defining works by some of the most compelling artists from around the world will be permanently placed in the monumental landscape of Al Ula, the extraordinary desert region of north-west Saudi Arabia steeped in thousands of years of natural, historical and cultural heritage.”

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Sketches for The Oasis of Stories by Manal Al Dowayan, for the Valley of the Arts. Image Credit: RCU

Five new artworks have just been commissioned by the RCU for permanent display, with the first phase of installation scheduled by 2024, by artists Manal Al Dowayan (Saudi Arabia), Agnes Denes (Hungary), Michael Heizer (USA), Ahmed Mater (Saudi Arabia) and James Turrell (USA). The large-scale artworks will be the first five works to be conceived for the Valley of the Arts marking the beginning of an entire programme of commissions and activities yet to be announced.

Created to fit into the natural surroundings, the artworks will be set against spectacular natural landscapes of cliffs, canyons and sand dunes.

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Image Credit: RCU

Saudi artist Al Dowayan, for example, chose a feminine theme for her labyrinthine installation called The Oasis of Stories, while physician-turned-artist Mater’s work, Ashab Al-Lal, represents a mirage in the desert.

“As custodians of this land, a crossroad between East and West marked by 200,000 years of natural, human and cultural history, we must continue to harness the unique legacy of AlUla to build its future,” said Nora Aldabal, Executive Director of Arts and Creative Industries, Royal Commission for Al Ula. "It is an honour to be working with such esteemed and celebrated artists to aide our ambitions to further establish AlUla as a world-leading centre for art and culture. This visionary destination will build a vibrant and prosperous local cultural economy, forging pathways for the people of AlUla to unlock creative potential and be architects of the region’s future.”