Saudi artist Obaid Alsafi wins the Ithra Art Prize 

Saudi artist Obaid Alsafi wins the Ithra Art Prize 



Arts AlUla and the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) have revealed the winner of the 6th edition of the Ithra Art Prize.

The third edition of the AlUla Arts Festival is currently underway, offering a transformative event that reinforces the city's long-standing history as a crossroads of cultures. 

One of the cornerstones of the festival was the unveiling of the Ithra Art Prize. Established in 2017, the Ithra Art Prize is open to artists from or based in 22 Arab countries. The winning artist receives $100,000 and up to $400,000 in funding to realise their project, making it the largest art grant in the region.

The theme "Art in the Landscape" sought submissions of public artwork proposals tailored to specific sites in AlUla, a heritage and culture destination and a pivotal point on the ancient Incense Road Trading route.

Ithra Art Prize

This year's winning artwork titled "Palms in Eternal Embrace" was created by Saudi artist Obaid Alsafi and is on display for six weeks amidst the 2.3 million date palms of the AlUla Oasis. The piece encourages viewers to reflect on ways to safeguard the natural environment.

Comprising over 30 palm trunks intricately interwoven using locally sourced organic or recycled textiles, the interactive piece draws inspiration from traditional Saudi artistry and rope and Leifa making. Collaborating with local artisans, Alsafi has incorporated unique and colourful designs amidst the natural wood, blending modern and traditional art forms. The intertwined ropes symbolise the potential of advanced technologies in preserving endangered flora and fauna.

Obaid Alsafi

The artwork draws from Saudi Arabia's rich history and landscapes, with Alsafi referencing his birthplace, the historical town of Qaryat Al Faw, and the 5,000-year-old Rajajil Columns in the Al Jawf region. These ancient sandstone pillars, used for observing stars and seasons, reflect the advanced astronomical knowledge of ancient cultures. Visitors are encouraged to get close to the work and are invited to clamber and climb on the trunks to experience the piece from different perspectives.

"Palms in Eternal Embrace" encourages viewers to contemplate ways to preserve the natural environment, shedding light on endangered palm trees as a symbol of the region's landscapes and heritage. 

Born in 1991 in Wadi ad-Dawasir and currently based in Riyadh, Obaid Alsafi is an artist who specialises in new media installations, video art, and data-generated projects. His creative process is deeply systematic, influenced by his background in computer science. Utilising his expertise in artificial intelligence and software, Alsafi's artworks shed light on the pervasive influence of data in our modern world. Through visualisation, he alters perceptions of the future of data, bridging the gap between the digital realm and our everyday physical experiences.

Ithra Art Prize

Obaid Alsafi commented, "With Palms in Eternal Embrace, I aim to initiate a dialogue about the profound connection between landscape and humanity, emphasising how people's lives are intricately intertwined with their surroundings. Drawing inspiration from the Al-Rajajil stone pillars, the first art installation I ever encountered, I wanted this work to convey a sense of urgency regarding the endangerment of palm trees globally, urging viewers to be mindful of the environment and participate in preserving both cultural and natural heritage."

The selection committee consists of industry experts, including Farah Abushullaih, Head of Museum at Ithra and Nora Aldabal, Executive Director of Arts AlUla. Following the AlUla Arts Festival, the piece will become part of Ithra's permanent collection. 

This edition of the annual prize, overseen by Ithra, marks the first collaboration with Arts AlUla, part of a broader partnership aimed at synergising efforts to foster creativity in Saudi Arabia and the wider region. 

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