Few artists understand metamorphosis as keenly as Saudi artist Manal Al Dowayan. Long invested in interrogating the gender-biased customs that impact the condition of women in Saudi Arabia, Al Dowayan is a sensitive yet critical witness to the cultural metamorphosis engulfing the Kingdom. Her practice, formally speaking, regularly shifts and evolves—from the assertive black and white photographic portraits of highly skilled working women in her early I Am series (2005), to the research-driven Crash (2014) documenting media silence on fatal road accidents involving commuting women schoolteachers. Equally recognized for her work in sound, neon, and sculpture, Al Dowayan is perhaps best known for the participatory installations Suspended Together (2011) and Esmi-My Name (2012), the result of workshops offering channels for thousands of women in the Kingdom to unjust social customs.
Al Dowayan’s practice navigates a territory where the personal and the political overlap. Her works spring from lived experiences—these intimate encounters with social injustice, the pangs of memory and forgetting. Yet her pieces are consistently galvanizing, sparking identification and engagement, particularly among women around the world. Her voice is strong, and it resonates.
Unsurprisingly, the artist’s gaze unravels the expected tensions running through the fiber of Saudi society—public vs private, traditional vs modern, community vs. world. But as the Kingdom races towards further change, Al Dowayan’s artistic engagement with this new metamorphosis promises to be bolder and more incisive than ever.
Al Dowayan’s work has been exhibited regionally and internationally in such institutions as the Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE (2016); Santander Art Gallery, Madrid (2016); Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA (2015); the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, Canada (2015); Prospect New Orleans, American Biennial, USA (2014), Gwangju Museum of Art, South Korea (2014); Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha (2014), the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2013), in collateral shows at the Venice Biennale (2009/11), among others. Her works can be found in the collections of the British Museum, London; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha. She participated in the Robert Rauschenberg Residency, Captiva, USA (2015) and the artist-in-residence program at the Delfina Foundation, London (2009). She also received a research fellowship from New York University Abu Dhabi (2014).
She holds a Master's Degree in Systems Analysis and Design and a MA in Contemporary Art Practice in Public Spheres from the Royal College of Art, London.
Born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia in 1973, Al Dowayan currently lives and works between London, Dhahran and Dubai.
RECENT ACTIVITIES IN 2018 and 2019:
LECTURES AND TALKS
WOMEN AND LEADERSHIP at CASA ARABE
A two day forum that highlights the current state of leadership among women in all sectors in the MENA region. Casa Arabe. Madrid, Spain - May 8-9, 2018.
NUQAT: THE HUMAN CAPITAL FORUM
Guest speaker at the Human Capital Forum, a two day forum that highlights the importance of investing in creativity for social impact. Kuwait, January 24-25, 2018.
THE FIRST DINNER SYMPOSIUM:
Prologue 3: Art Activism - Feminism - Transcultural Movements:
Invited to present at the final series of an artist-led symposium that discusses current activist and feminist perspectives in Scandinavia and the Middle East. Oslo, Norway - October 21-22, 2017.