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  • Nov 16, 2023

Obaid Alsafi Wins 6th Ithra Art Prize

Portrait of the 6th Ithra Art Prize winner OBAID ALSAFI. Courtesy Ithra Art Prize.

The sixth annual Ithra Art Prize has been awarded to Saudi artist Obaid Alsafi. He will receive USD $100,000 in prize money, with an additional grant of $400,000 to realize the project. Launched in 2017 by the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), the annual prize is the largest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to be awarded to artists from the region.

Themed “Art in the Landscape,” the prize is in collaboration with Arts AlUla as part of a wider partnership with the Royal Commission for AlUla, an organization responsible for preserving and developing the region of Al-'Ula in Saudi Arabia. Among the proposals for a unique site-specific commission that reflects the Arab world’s cultural and natural heritage, Alsafi’s winning installation, Palms in Eternal Embrace (2023), focuses on climate change and the preservation of natural diversity. 

Alsafi’s proposal featured 30 trunks of endangered local palm trees arranged in a structure that mimics the 6,000-year-old stone Columns of Rajajil in the Al Jawf region of Saudi Arabia. Locally-sourced textiles were woven together to form the trunks, drawing on the traditional rope-making techniques and forming a symbolic representation of the environmental changes affecting the Arabian Peninsula. 

Born in Wadi ad-Dawasir in 1991, Alsafi lives in Riyadh and creates installations, video, and data-generated projects influenced by his background in computer science, with many of his works using digital media to explore the boundaries of the organic and the synthetic. In a statement Alsadi said he was honored to win the year’s award 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.” He added that he hoped the installation would inspire audiences “to consider innovative solutions to address such pressing environmental concerns.”

Alsadi’s Palms in Eternal Embrace will be unveiled at the third edition of the AlUla Arts Festival, scheduled to open on 8 February 2024.

Sharon Lee is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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