Saudi artist Obaid Alsafi wins MENA’s Largest Art Prize

The winning artwork will be unveiled at the opening of the 2024 AlUla Arts Festival on 8 February

DHAHRAN – Asdaf News:

The sixth iteration of the Ithra Art Prize was awarded to Saudi artist Obaid Alsafi, by the King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture (Ithra).

The largest art prize in the area, the Ithra Art Prize was established in 2017 and offers MENA artists the chance to win $100,000 in addition to up to $400,000 in cash to realise their ideas. As part of a larger strategic engagement with the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), Arts AlUla is collaborating on this year’s Ithra Art Prize, Art in the Landscape. RCU is in charge of protecting and promoting the AlUla region, which is renowned for its exceptional natural and cultural value and for being home to Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Alsafi’s scientific approach to his creative process explores the effects of the invisible on the physical world and the visible world. He has a background in computer technology. His contribution, which won the Ithra Art Prize The large-scale sculpture piece Palms in Eternal Embrace proposes methods for preserving nature, particularly the critically endangered palm tree, a potent symbol of Arabian landscapes and culture.

The installation consists of more than thirty palm trunks that structurally resemble the 6,000-year-old Rajajil Columns in Saudi Arabia’s Al Jawf region. The Rajajil Columns are an archaeological monument that shows how the Arabian Peninsula’s shifting environment caused a shift from nomadic to sedentary lifestyles.

Obaid Alsafi says “I am honored to be awarded this year’s Ithra Art Prize and to have the opportunity to cast a spotlight on the importance of safeguarding the natural world in the astounding setting of AlUla’s natural heritage and oasis landscape. Challenging the boundaries between the organic and the synthetic, the natural and the cultural, and the human and the non-human, it is my hope that ‘Palms in Eternal Embrace’ will inspire audiences to reflect on the extinction of a plant group that is so characteristic of our region and foundational to our identity, and to consider innovative solutions to address such pressing environmental concerns.

The winning artwork was selected by a jury of industry experts: Farah Abushullaih, Head of Museum at Ithra, Nora Aldabal, Executive Director of Arts and Creative Industries at the Royal Commission for AlUla, Mohamed Ibrahim, Emirati Artist, Sophie Makariou, Scientific Director for Culture and Heritage, AFALULA and Aric Chen, General and Artistic Director, Het Nieuwe Instituut.

Obaid Alsafi’s Palms in Eternal Embrace will be unveiled as a part of the third edition of the Arts AlUla Festival, on February 8, with a live performance art piece centered around the preservation of the palm tree’s biological essence. The AlUla Arts Festival is an annual multi-arts festival showcasing AlUla’s long-standing legacy as a cultural crossroads and champion of the arts. From cutting-edge exhibitions and street-art tours to cinema screenings and a lively programme of performances, AlUla explodes into a city-wide celebration of the arts. The Ithra Art Prize winning piece will exhibit in the AlUla Oasis, in and amongst the 2.3 million date palms that are clustered throughout AlUla, for six weeks before joining Ithra’s permanent collection.

One of Ithra’s core aims is to facilitate deeper conversations surrounding community and culture. This year’s Ithra Art Prize theme encouraged Arab and international artists to engage with Saudi Arabia’s natural heritage in order to further develop the meaningful cross-cultural exchange of ideas that lies at the heart of Ithra’s values and at the heart of our wider partnership with RCU,” said Farah Abushullaih, Head of Museum at Ithra. She adds: “Obaid Alsafi’s piece was selected for its poignant encapsulation of some of the most significant challenges the world is universally facing, presented through a lens of specificity related to AlUla’s natural landscape.

Nora Aldabal, Executive Director of Arts and Creative Industries at the Royal Commission for AlUla, said “We’re excited to announce Obaid Alsafi as the recipient of this year’s Ithra Art Prize. His winning submission brings to light the vital importance of preserving AlUla’s unique desert and oasis landscape. RCU has a longstanding commitment to nurturing Arab artists, fostering the vibrant creative scene in the Kingdom and the broader MENA region. Through our partnership with Ithra, we aim to further enrich AlUla’s rich legacy to place art and creativity at the centre of an unfolding visitor destination and as a valued contributor to the region’s character, quality of life and economy.

For more information on the Ithra Art Prize, please visit link.

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