Literature is an important part of any culture, says Emirates Literature Festival CEO

Isobel Abulhoul discussed the festival's evolution into the UAE's premier literary event while speaking with Arab News. (AN photo)
Updated 20 February 2018

Literature is an important part of any culture, says Emirates Literature Festival CEO

DUBAI: The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The 10-day festival kicks off in Dubai on March 1 and will once again welcome tens of thousands of literature lovers through its doors to meet more than 180 authors from 47 different countries. Last year, roughly 44,000 visitors attended the event.
Speaking to Arab News on the sidelines of the press conference announcing this year’s edition, the festival’s director, Isobel Abulhoul, discussed the festival’s evolution into the UAE’s premier literary event, winning a number of awards. It has, she said, been a rollercoaster ride.
“I’ve been on the rollercoaster for the last 10 years and I’m still whizzing around at great speed,” she said. “Organizing an event of this size, thinking about different languages, thinking about our audiences, is a very complex composition and so we have to break it into tiny, tiny bits. Organizing a live event is all about details.”
It has become slightly easier over the years, Abulhoul explained, as the organizers have come to better understand the requirements of the audience.
“The most important thing is choosing authors who are not just wonderful writers but also performers,” she said. “Then, the audience have an amazing experience: It’s live, it’s happening, it’s conversation… It’s a kind of package deal.”
Abulhoul is aware that a literature festival may seem somewhat out of touch with the digital world ­— as reading and writing become less common pastimes. But she is also aware of the festival’s potential value.
“Literature is important in any culture,” she said. “It is a challenge in today’s busy world, because of technology and all the distraction, but we are succeeding. We are creating writers. We support the Emirati writing community and the expat (writers) living here.”
She said that, aside from book lovers, the festival also targets those who don’t yet read for pleasure.
“We believe if they come to the festival and meet great writers, listen to their live sessions and enjoy them, then they are more likely to pick up their books,” Abulhoul explained. “This can be the key that unlocks reading for them. And that is what we have been doing for the last 10 years: Getting more and more people into reading for pleasure.”
To help with this, the festival also organizes education programs, which include education days, student sessions and authors visiting schools. Student competitions for poetry, short stories and reading are also held, in both Arabic and English. Last year, more than 25,000 students across the UAE took part in the various programs.
Ultimately, Abulhoul said, the festival offers something that just cannot be found in the digital realm: A live experience.
“It’s a unique opportunity. It’s happening live. It’s a contrast to spending our lives on our laptops in the virtual world,” she said. “This is not the virtual world. This is the real world.”


Saudi desert art expo puts AlUla’s natural, cultural gems under global spotlight

Over the past year AlUla has been welcoming artists to the desert site, and their art creations are aimed at providing visitors with works that reflect the rich culture of the area. (SPA photos)
Updated 13 February 2020

Saudi desert art expo puts AlUla’s natural, cultural gems under global spotlight

  • The exhibition has taken its cue from the extraordinary landscape of the ancient site

RIYADH: A Saudi desert exhibition inspired by AlUla’s natural and historic surroundings has been taking the art world by storm.
Desert X AlUla, the first site-responsive contemporary art display of its kind in the Kingdom, has brought together an international collaboration of artists for a cross-cultural exploration of desert culture.
The expo, which runs until March 7, has taken its cue from the extraordinary landscape and historical significance of the ancient site.
Some of the artists taking part in the project have been involved in the creation of Desert X installations in California, and their experience has helped produce stunning artworks based on AlUla’s ancient civilizations, natural beauty, sands and rock formations.
The expo, which has been held in cooperation between the Royal Commission for AlUla and Desert X, is part of the Kingdom’s push to promote Saudi art and culture on the international stage.

The exhibition represents AlUla’s cultural spirit as we continue to preserve and promote its natural and historical marvels.

Amr Al-Madani, CEO of Royal Commission for AlUla

Over the past year AlUla has been welcoming artists to the desert site, and their art creations are aimed at providing visitors with works that reflect the rich culture of the area, where caravans once traveled the old incense road.
AlUla was built by successive civilizations over thousands of years and was a place for cultural exchange due to its location at the confluence of three continents, serving as a link between the East and the West. Desert X AlUla has been designed to bring that cultural heritage back to life.
Amr Al-Madani, the CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla, said: “Desert X AlUla has become a new element of AlUla’s heritage through the use of art’s transformative power. Through it, we can promote the link between different points of view and find new fruitful cultural exchange opportunities to enhance friendliness and understanding among people.
“The exhibition represents AlUla’s cultural spirit as we continue to preserve and promote its natural and historical marvels. Culture and heritage are of big importance and we are proud to have a royal commission that supports creativity and unleashes new forms of interaction between society and the world.”
The commission is working to revitalize, protect and preserve the region through a fundamental and sustainable transformation with the participation of the local population.
American artist Lita Albuquerque has taken part in Desert X AlUla with an installation called “Al-Najma” (Star), which recalls the cosmic myth of an astronaut that landed on Earth to spread light and knowledge as a symbol of the return of life and the birth of astronomy.

FASTFACTS

• The expo, which has been held in cooperation between the Royal Commission for AlUla and Desert X, is part of the Kingdom’s push to promote Saudi art and culture on the international stage.

• The exhibition will continue until March 7.

• Some of the artists taking part in the project have been involved in the creation of Desert X installations in California.

Rashed Al-Shashai, an artist from Saudi Arabia, has created an artwork titled “Concise Passage” that tells the story of the commercial caravans that have passed through the region down the ages.
Using 40 steel rings, Lebanese artist Ryan Tabet’s work focuses on the pipelines of the Arabian Pipeline and Services Co. which connect the Arabian Peninsula.
Riyadh-based Muhannad Shono’s “The Lost Path” display represents the Kingdom’s youth as the source of new energy flowing through the country along a decomposed pipeline semi-submerged under moving sand.
Saudi visual and land artist Zahrah Al-Ghamdi has produced “Glimpse from the Past,” a feature that highlights a sparkling flash from thousands of date boxes, once the agricultural treasure of AlUla.
Sarab’s art piece throws the spotlight on the fertility and generosity of AlUla’s oasis toward traders crossing the arid landscape, while Manal Al-Sawayan’s work features artificial lakes where objects and images fade into the natural landscape.