Arts AlUla unveils the latest major art project: the Safar art collection at AlUla’s International Airport

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia: Safar is a major new collection of over 64 artworks by 24 Saudi and international artists at AlUla’s International Airport. Spanning both the Executive Terminal and the Commercial Terminal, Safar highlights and celebrates AlUla’s cultural legacy, natural wonders and community and includes works by artisans of AlUla’s Madrasat Addeera Art and Design Centre, opened by Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) to train and upskill the next generation of creatives.

Safar – meaning travel in Arabic – is a fitting name for this important collection of sculpture, photography, textiles, paintings, and design pieces found at the gateway to AlUla. AlUla has long been a place of artistic journey: a historic hub of cultural transfer, which is now being revived as an oasis of art and creativity.

A long-standing place of passage, AlUla has always welcomed traders, merchants and pilgrims who have – for millennia – portrayed their experiences of AlUla’s spectacular cultural landscape through literature and art. The Safar art collection continues this legacy, linking the narratives of the past through the contemporary perspectives of artists of our time: a journey through the airport and a journey through AlUla’s past heritage and future vision.

The collection was conceived by The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) and facilitated by Capsule Arts, presenting work by significant Saudi and international artists such as Dana Awartani, Shaikha Al Mazrou and Zahrah Al Ghamdi (all of whom have a longstanding relationship with Arts AlUla) as well as emerging artists such as Stephanie Neville, Sandrah Boutros and Nidanin Woodwork.

Speaking to Arts AlUla’s vision for a new – and local – creative community, works by the 10 Saudi artists and 6 regional artists sit alongside those by artisans from Madrasat Addeera, the first Art and Design Center in AlUla which offers craft programmes for local artisans. In a piece entitled ‘Our Living Tradition’, artisans from Madrasat Addeera investigate the Order of Nature as a design tool and how language is intrinsic to traditional arts and cultures. Their paintings all mirror the same underlying square grid pattern (the basis of textile techniques such as Al Sadu weaving: a new addition to UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage) but feature different patterns that originate from the varied traditional crafts that span the region.

Safar’s artworks are in dialogue with AlUla’s unique physical and cultural landscape. Two sculptures by Shaikha Al Mazrou reference local rock engravings in a deep brick orange resin, while two framed diptychs by Dana Awartani continue the heritage narrative through intricate traditional patterns inspired by aerial views of AlUla’s famous heritage sites. Meanwhile, Farah Behbehani’s embroidered textiles serve as an ode to the community of AlUla through a local craft, and Ranim Halaky’s ‘Conversations through time’ is a striking typographic raw steel installation that has been created in collaboration with the community, presenting their voice in sculptural form.

Alongside this, the work of emerging artists such as Stephanie Neville, Sandrah Boutros and Nidanin Woodwork is presented as a contemporary cabinet of curiosities in the Executive Terminal Library. This includes works inspired by AlUla’s rich heritage of textile and crafts, alongside photography from The Royal Commission for AlUla’s archive that depict the surrounding landscapes.

Commenting on the project, Nora Aldabal, Executive Director, Arts and Creative Industries for the Royal Commission for AlUla said, “We are delighted to unveil the Safar art collection: a continuation of our ongoing cultural programming, setting the standard for engaging contemporary artists within the Kingdom. Safar represents the depth and breadth of Arts AlUla’s relationship with the arts: a major new collection that follows recent world-class events such as Desert X AlUla 2022, the Cortona on the Move artist residency, What Lies Within and the launch of Wadi AlFann.

Not least because of its airport setting, the Safar art collection reconnects AlUla with local, regional and international visitors in its next chapter as a centre of artistic exploration, expression, and production. The arts are a vital contributor to the region’s character and identity, the quality of life for its local community and the region’s economic future. We look forward to sharing it with all who come to AlUla.”

Fly to AlUla International Airport with Saudia Airlines, FlyDubai and FlyNas. International arrivals from Dubai International Airport, Kuwait International Airport and Cairo International Airport (from October 5th); domestic arrivals from Riyadh, Jeddah and Damman. The airport is 35km (a 30 minute drive) from AlUla city centre.

About AlUla:

Located 1,100km from Riyadh, in North-West Saudi Arabia, AlUla is a place of extraordinary natural and human heritage. The vast area, covering 22,561km², includes a lush oasis valley, towering sandstone mountains and ancient cultural heritage sites dating back thousands of years covering the periods when the Lihyan, Dadan, and Nabataean kingdoms reigned.

The most well-known and recognised site in AlUla is Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 52-hectare ancient city, Hegra was the principal southern city of the Nabataean Kingdom and is comprised of more than 100 well-preserved tombs with elaborate facades cut out of the sandstone outcrops surrounding the walled urban settlement. Current research also suggests Hegra was the most southern outpost of the Roman Empire after conquering the Nabataeans in 106 CE.

In addition to Hegra, AlUla is home to fascinating historical and archaeological sites. These include:

  • Ancient Dadan, the capital of the Dadan and Lihyan Kingdoms, which is considered one of the most developed 1st-millennium BCE cities of the Arabian Peninsula
  • Jabal Ikmah, an open-air library with thousands of ancient rock art and inscriptions
  • AlUla Old Town, a labyrinth of more than 900 mudbrick homes developed from at least the 12th century
  • The Hijaz Railway and Hegra Fort, key sites in the layered story of this route of passage

About The Royal Commission for AlUla:

The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) was established by the royal decree in July 2017 to protect and safeguard AlUla, a region of outstanding natural and cultural significance in North-West Saudi Arabia. RCU is embarking on a long-term plan to develop and deliver a sensitive, sustainable transformation of the region, reaffirming it as one of the country’s most important archaeological and cultural destinations and preparing it to welcome visitors from around the world. RCU’s development work in AlUla encompasses a broad range of initiatives across archaeology, tourism, culture, education and the arts, reflecting the ambitious commitment to cultivating tourism and leisure in Saudi Arabia, outlined in Vision 2030.

About Arts AlUla:

The creation of Arts AlUla within The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) is a commitment to crafting the next chapters in a millennia of artistic creation – celebrating cultural inheritance, presenting the art of our time, and shaping a future propelled by creativity.

AlUla has long been a consistent and ever-evolving hub of cultural transfer. It has been a place of passage, a crossroads for trade, and home to successive civilizations who carved, sculpted and inscribed their lives into the landscape. The work of Arts AlUla seeks to preserve this legacy: fuse the old with the new; the local with the international, keeping the arts central to the spirit of AlUla as a place of extraordinary natural and human heritage.

Throughout 2022, Arts AlUla will bring to fruition a series of new initiatives, projects and exhibitions. The artwork curation will speak to RCU’s vision for the continued development of AlUla’s contemporary art scenes: positioning the arts as a key contributor to AlUla’s character, the quality of life for its local community and the region’s economic future.

Arts AlUla focuses on transferring the talents of the Saudi nation and the local AlUla community into meaningful long-standing social and economic opportunities. This is a key part of the Journey through Time masterplan bringing together the 15 different landmark destinations for culture, heritage and creativity across AlUla.

About AlUla International Airport:

AlUla International Airport is a newly-renovated airport and the gateway to AlUla. Just 35km (a 30-minute drive) from AlUla city centre, the airport opens AlUla to a global community. Visitors can fly to AlUla International Airport with Saudia Airlines, FlyDubai and FlyNas. International arrivals from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, Dubai International Airport, Kuwait International Airport and Cairo International Airport; domestic arrivals from Riyadh, Jeddah and Damman.

The airport is 2.4 million square meters and comprises an Executive Terminal and Commercial Terminal. Together these terminals have a total capacity of 400,000 passengers.