This month, the BBC has revealed its list of 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2019. These are women who drive change on behalf of women everywhere.
This year’s list included Manal Al Dowayan, a Saudi photographer and artist from Dhahran. She is not the first Saudi female on this list. Her work is an interesting and innovative way of reflecting on Saudi women in society.
Manal Al Dowayan is a Saudi artist, living and working in Dubai, and Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. She was born in Dhahran in 1973.
Manal holds a Master’s Degree in Systems Analysis and Design, and an MA in Contemporary Art Practice in Public Spheres from the Royal College of Art, London, one of the most prestigious art schools in the world.
She is a photographer and installation artist. Her creations are a direct reflection of her life, with all its ups and downs. Among her favorite themes are archives, and collective memory with a focus on the Saudi women’s experience and their representation, but also personal themes. Her work is based on photography, she layers a variety of media, including silkscreen prints and lights.
The late King Abdullah’s speech — calling upon all Saudis to come together in building the country and stressing on the importance of women participation — inspired her photographic series I AM (2007), portraying self-assertive, charismatic professional women in traditional dress and jewellery wearing elements, such as safety helmets and a stethoscope, that alluded to traditional ‘male jobs’.
She says about her work “I strive to invent new platforms of expressions. I coax the questioning out of the spectators encountering my work, I encourage debate around my projects, and I try to remind myself constantly to never become a reactionary.”
In 2011, Al Dowayan contributed a work to the Venice Biennale with Suspended Together, an installation of 200 fiberglass doves hanging from the ceiling. The dove symbolizes Saudi women, and, in this particular case, was imprinted with travel permission documents, which addressed the situation of Saudi women at that time and their need for permission from a guardian when traveling.
For her project IF I Forget You Don’t Forget Me, she has documented social groups like the oil men and women of Saudi Arabia and addressed the impact of mass media on intentional erasing of identities. In another project Crash, she highlighted the many unnamed Saudi teachers dying in car crashes across Saudi Arabia.
In 2014 she was a recipient of a research Fellowship from NYU AD and was invited, in early 2015, to the Robert Rauschenberg Residency in Captiva, Florida.
Manal has exhibited her work in Prospect 3 New Orleans – The American Biennale – and many museums in the world, among them the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, in Denmark, The Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK, etc.
Although she doesn’t comment on political affairs, she does not shy away from the fact that her art is out to make a statement, through her point of view. “It’s important to point out that I don’t define my art as political. Rather, I make art politically. This means I address my world from a personal standpoint. I make art as a proactive process.”