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Ayman Zedani

The Valley of the Desert Keepers


The Valley of the Desert Keepers is composed of sonic and sculptural elements, delivering an immersive experience for visitors to the valley. This installation grew out of Zedani’s fascination with the parasitic plants of the Arabian desert, particularly the plant family Cistanche tubulosa, which, during the rainy seasons, can be found in abundance near the tombs of Hegra, the once vibrant city of the ancient Nabataeans. These plants rely on horizontal gene transfer—a process through which the parasitic plants acquire the genes of host plants to ensure the survival of their own offspring. As such, their genomes contain an archive of the botanical history of the desert and, potentially, the keys to a livable future.

The installation is comprised of various elements, including horizontal sculptural wires and a multichannel audio projection. The audio component combines a comprehensive narration of all the desert flora in Arabic with an echo, produced by the visitor’s own footsteps and amplified via microphones. At the site of the installation, a single Acacia tree sitting near an opening in the site slowly becomes the host plant, and an icon for the project – meaning the work becomes at once anchored by, and an ode to, this fascinating flora.

Ayman Zedani’s (b. 1984, Saudi Arabia, based in Riyadh) practice manifests in objects and multilayered installations; it attempts to renegotiate the relationship between human and nonhuman, animal and plant, organic and inorganic, land and water. His conceptual works are built on a series of experiments that explore the agency of matter and consider multispecies collaboration as a way of surviving the challenges of the Anthropocene. His recent projects include Between Desert Seas, Diriyah Biennale (2021); Earthseed, Noor Riyad (2021); Terrapolis at the Sustainability Pavilion Terra, Expo 2020, Dubai; Between the Heavens and the Earth, Lahore Biennial (2020), and the return of the old ones, Jeddah (2020). He won the inaugural lthra Art Prize and presented his debut solo show titled bahar-bashar-shajar-hajar (sea-human-tree-stone), curated by Murtaza Vali, at Athr Gallery, Jeddah (2019).

The Valley of the Desert Keepers
26.651056, 37.992889
AlUla, Saudi Arabia
Desert X AlUla 2022