Obaid Alsafi has been named the winner of the 6th edition of the Ithra Art Prize, entitled Art in the Landscape, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) announced today.
Alsafi’s winning submission Palms in Eternal Embrace is a large-scale sculptural installation that proposes strategies for protecting the natural world and endangered palm trees in particular. The work consists of more than 30 palm trunks that mirror the 6,000-year-old Rajajil Columns in the historic Al Jawf region of Saudi Arabia. The trunks are bound together with locally-sourced organic or recycled textiles that reflect the tradition of rope and Leifa-making in Saudi Arabia and which gesture to the availability of technologies that can be used to preserve nature.
The work will be unveiled at the opening of the 2024 AlUla Arts Festival on 8 February 2024, organised in partnership with the Royal Commission for AlUla, Saudi Arabia. The installation will be accompanied with a live performance art piece centered around the preservation of the palm tree’s biological essence. It will be exhibited in the AlUla Oasis for six weeks before joining Ithra’s permanent collection.
Alsafi said: “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 artist was selected as the winner by a jury of industry experts, comprising 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.
Farah Abushullaih said: “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.”
The 6th Ithra Art Prize invited artists to propose public artworks that are site-specific to AlUla and engage with AlUla’s landscapes and natural heritage. The entry criteria also stated that the materials used to create the work should support local industry and artisans.
This year’s edition of the Ithra Art Prize is organised in collaboration with Arts AlUla, as part of a wider strategic partnership with the Royal Commission for AlUla.