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Desert X: A Call to the Desert

In the desert of the Coachella Valley, where most people visualize barren land filled with little else but dirt, rocks, and the occasional burst of greenery, art installations appear seemingly from nowhere every two years. Despite the randomness that may strike viewers of these exhibitions, each piece of art is placed in its location with particular intention. Every piece is unique, created by a different artist with specific messages in mind to convey to viewers of their work. The accreditation of how these displays are orchestrated goes to a charitable organization called The Desert Benenial, or Desert X. In 2017, they put together their very first exhibition, motivated by a communal love for art and a drive to bring the general public together to spread awareness about social and environmental issues in an interactive and thought provoking way. 


Paving the way for the first ever exhibition was art director Neville Wakefield. Wakefield had a lot of responsibility as the artists that he picked would largely determine the fate of Desert X. Artists were invited from around the world, called upon to bring their talent to the desert to spread a message close to their heart. One such artist was Tavares Strachan. For the exhibition, Strachan put together a piece titled “I Am.” Strachan took inspiration from the way people have interacted with the desert for centuries, journeying through to learn and discover answers to both external and internal questions. Experiencing the installation up close, people follow along pathways of glowing light. However, if seen from a much more zoomed out perspective, the glowing pathways create the words “I am.” 


Most recently, Desert X’s 2023 exhibition was opened to the public from the beginning of March to the beginning of May. Wakefield and co-curator Diana Campbell brought together 12 artists to participate in creating the year’s installations. This year, the general focus was about movement and change and the ways in which we interact with the environment and climate around us, both good and bad. Rana Begum, one of the artists who contributed an installation, chose to create a chain link maze pavilion of sorts. Chain link is often used in situations of violence or to keep people in. Begum’s goal in her art piece was to rework this material, creating her maze as a way to promote freedom, allowing for people and other items of nature to pass through whichever way they desire and also conveying how everything is constantly in movement.


Since 2017, Desert X has only grown and improved. Four exhibitions have occurred since the start, with another expected to occur in 2025. The organization has also expanded outside of the Palm Springs area to other parts of the world, including desert areas in Saudi Arabia. As Desert X has grown, so has its impact on the public. Thousands of people travel to view exhibitions, creating community not only locally, but far beyond as well. Community is also created within the production of the exhibition as artists are brought together worldwide to collaborate in creating one big project.  Impacted by the powerful messages each artwork conveys, there is a strong call to action that Desert X’s exhibits highlight, conveying luxury in the privilege of speaking out through art.


By: Siena Seps


“Desert X in Greater Palm Springs: Desert X Guide & Locations.” Visit Greater Palm Springs, www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com/events/signature-events/desert-x/.

“Rana Begum.” Desert X, desertx.org/dx/dx-23/rana-begum

“Tavares Strachan.” Desert X, desertx.org/dx/desert-x-17/tavares-strachan




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