Desert X 2021 to highlight feminism, diversity and global awareness

International Art Exhibition Brings Renown Feminist Artist To The Valley


Photo courtesy of Desert X. Desert X 21 Landscape 12.

Dozens of sports, music and cultural events in the Coachella Valley have been canceled due to COVID-19, but the art exhibition Desert X 2021 is still on schedule. Opening March 12 and continuing through May 16, the new display this year features multiple large-scale, outdoor art installations to explore. Spread over a 40-mile radius and viewed in the open-air or online, this pandemic-friendly activity is a welcome distraction for our quarantine-weary community.

Desert X has announced the artists selected for this third edition of their biennial outdoor art exhibition. Thirteen artists from eight different countries will be featured, presenting diverse works, from billboards to gardens to smoke sculptures. Feminism, diversity and global awareness are the themes this historic year where a woman was elected Vice President of the United States.

Egyptian artist Ghada Amer’s timely exhibit, Women’s Qualities, highlights women’s merits in our own valley.

Amer describes Women’s Qualities as “a social project” that has brought together different Coachella Valley segments, represented as a word garden, symbolic of our various communities. Amer asked local women’s groups to present words they identify with being female, such as “resilient” and “strong.” These expressions, and others, will be integrated into her landscape, creating her inspired garden of words at Sunnylands, the former estate of philanthropists and art collectors Walter and Leonore Annenberg.

Amer’s art has long challenged traditional notions of femininity. Both in the West and the Middle East and some of her best-known creations include sculpture, painting and intricate fabric design. She has been creating landscaping for some time, starting with a garden in 1999 for the acclaimed artistic platform, SITE Santa Fe Biennial. Her art features social issues, including sexuality, female identity and Islamic culture. Her work seeks to break through traditional art’s male framework by incorporating the traditionally feminine forms of sewing and embroidery.

“By hybridizing those worlds,“ Amer says, “The canvas becomes a new territory where the feminine has its own place in a field dominated by men, and from where, I hope, we won’t be removed again. I integrate this same feminine universe into my gardens. When I had to start working outdoors, I needed to find some translation, something I could do instead of embroidery, but something with the same idea. So, I thought, “What can a woman do outside?” Gardening was a woman’s activity, just like embroidery. This is how I decided to create gardens.”

Photo courtesy of Desert X. Ghada Amer presenting her work during a conference in Tours (France) at the CCCOD on June 3, 2018.

Feminism is also the focus of Living Smoke; A Tribute to the Living Desert, a specially-commissioned Desert X Smoke Sculpture by Judy Chicago. Scheduled for April 9, 2021, her ‘Atmospheres’ or smoke pieces momentarily transform and feminize the landscape without leaving a mark or trace.

Diversity is highlighted this year in several displays. In his mural, Finding Home in My Own Flesh, Mexican artist Felipe Baeza focuses on the “erasure of queer communities of color from multiple histories and places integral to the Coachella Valley.” Oscar Murillo’s exhibit, Frequencies, draws on the diversity of our own valley youth. Christopher Myers’ The Art of Taming Horses uses sculpture to explore ethnic migrations. Xaviera Simmons employs billboards that confront white stereotypes in her project Because You Know Ultimately We Will Band A Militia.

Other works focus on our shared global experiences. Serge Attukwei Clottey brings attention to the world water crisis with his sculptural installation, The Wishing Well. Another sculptural work by Alicja Kwade, ParaPivo, references current global issues.  By Tlingit and Unanga artist and musician Nicholas Galanin, Never Forget addresses the issue of monuments and what they memorialize, exploring the white settler mythology of America. Artist Eduardo Sarabia’s The Passenger is a large maze connecting peoples across geographies and cultures.

Saudi Arabian artist Zahrah Alghamdi’s monumental sculptural wall, What Lies Behind the Walls, connects our home’s desert landscape to other deserts’ transformations across the globe, and Argentinian artist Vivian Suter’s installation of paintings and light, Tamanrasset, was inspired by the Coachella Valley.

Artist Sterling Ruby's 2019 Desert X installation, 'Spector'
Photo courtesy of Desert X. Sterling Ruby 2019 Desert X installation, “Specter.”

Desert X organizers will provide hand sanitizer and masks at select installations, and sites will be staffed to ensure pandemic regulations are followed. To ensure that social distancing is maintained, crowd control measures will guarantee a safe experience for all. Timed ticketing may be implemented if particular installments prove popular and draw crowds. Patrons are asked not to touch any artwork and maintain 6 feet of distance from staff and other visitors.

Attendance is free, and a map of the installations will be posted starting March 12 on the Desert X website and via the Desert X 2021 mobile app. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, public bus tours will not be offered this year. However, docents are available to provide information at most sites every Saturday between March 12 and May 16 from 10 a.m. to noon.

Safe guided tours of Desert X are available for small private and corporate groups. A donation to Desert X is required for this service.

Visitors will also get maps and information at Ace Hotel & Swim Club, 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. Desert X will also sell merchandise made by Windmill City Screen Printing and other local companies at Windmill City Super #1 located at 463 N. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs.