RCU’s collaboration with artist Popa highlights AlUla conservation issue - GulfToday

RCU’s collaboration with artist Popa highlights AlUla conservation issue


US artist David Popa’s I Care artwork at AlUla.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), the cultural custodian of northwest Saudi Arabia, has launched a new, inclusive heritage conservation campaign that aims to deepen and enrich the public’s knowledge, awareness, and desire to protect and uplift AlUla’s ancient history. The I Care campaign (launched Feb. 1), shines a local, national, and global spotlight on the importance of RCU’s diverse and ongoing heritage protection projects in AlUla, as Saudi Arabia strives to fulfil its aim to develop it into the world’s largest living museum. AlUla is an ancient Arabic oasis and market city located in Madinah Province on the historic incense route that linked India and the Gulf to the Levant and Europe.

I Care will promote the need to safeguard AlUla’s diverse landscape of cultural assets, including natural and manmade monuments, as a means of boosting economic development, driving community engagement, and expanding people’s knowledge and appreciation of its storied past — goals that also align with the aims of Saudi Vision 2030. In the first phase of the campaign, RCU has partnered with acclaimed US artist David Popa to create a landmark piece set within the landscape of AlUla itself. The artwork, which takes the shape of two protective hands, is constructed around the iconic Tomb of Lihyan, Son of Kuza, a monumental heritage destination at Hegra, part of the AlUla complex, which was designated as Saudi Arabia’s first World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008.

Well-known for innovative techniques and ephemeral works, Popa’s artwork is designed to be symbolic of I Care’s ambition to protect and cherish places of historic and cultural value — vulnerable sites that resonate with the local community and global heritage experts alike. Constructed using natural elements, including yellow earth from Europe and red earth from the Middle East, it is one of Popa’s largest works to date. Planned to disintegrate in a matter of weeks, the artwork highlights the pressing need for collective action to safeguard cultural heritage locations in AlUla and the wider world.

Dr. Abdulrahman Alsuhaibani, Executive Director of Archaeology, Conservation and Collections at RCU, said: “The I Care campaign is an important and inclusive step towards increasing the AlUla community’s awareness and appreciation of the incredible history that exists on their doorstep. The Kingdom has made great strides to conserve and develop its cultural heritage and rich collection of assets, including AlUla with its 200,000 years of human history. As guardians of this unique crossroads for civilisations, RCU is focused on raising people’s awareness of the need to engage with conservation efforts through the new I Care campaign. This will help to deepen RCU’s connection with our community as we work towards a common, shared, and inclusive purpose — to protect and celebrate our heritage so it can be enjoyed for generations to come.”

Popa said that “working on this project has been an immense privilege. I Care is not just a campaign: it is a celebration of AlUla’s and the Kingdom’s legacy and traditions. AlUla’s heritage is a treasure for the entire world, and I have been enriched by the enlightening conversations I have had with the local storytellers, the Rawis, the Heritage Rangers, and the young ambassadors being trained in the Hammayah programme to take on guardianship of this invaluable heritage.”

US artist David Popa with students in AlUla.

A key audience of the I Care campaign is AlUla’s younger generation. RCU will provide schools with comprehensive toolkits to educate and empower youngsters and their teachers through a series of workshops that focus on the importance of heritage protection and how landmarks connect with the community stories, life, and traditions. RCU will also host school visits and community activities at AlUla’s diverse collection of historic landmarks, such as Hegra. The community, young and old, it must be emphasised, have an active and key role to play in helping to conserve the zone’s cultural landscape, with the I Care campaign seeking to fill knowledge gaps and promote future discovery among residents, visiting tourists, and Saudi citizens.

With its landscape of diverse heritage sites, vast mountains, lush wadis (valleys), and wide-open desert scenery, AlUla is now established as a new global destination for culture, history, archaeological discovery, and the sharing of ancient knowledge. It is home to the extraordinary Nabataean city and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hegra; the city of Dadan, which was the capital of the Dadanite and Lihyanite kingdoms; the Jabal Ikmah open-air library, whose ancient inscriptions are now included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register; and AlUla Old Town, which has been named as one of UNWTO’s Best Tourism Villages.

These sites and many others are part of RCU’s programme of conservation, exploration, and study as AlUla is comprehensively regenerated into a destination for cultural workers and tourists. RCU was established by royal decree in 2017 to preserve and develop AlUla, a region of natural and cultural significance in northwest Saudi Arabia. RCU’s long-term plan outlines a sustainable approach to urban and economic development that preserves the area’s natural and historic heritage while establishing AlUla as a location to live, work, and visit. The initiative encompasses a broad range of initiatives across archaeology, tourism, culture, education, and the arts. It is a commitment to meeting the aims of economic diversification, local community empowerment, and heritage preservation priorities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 programme.

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