Art, Politics & Society

Manal Al Dowayan: Unifying Saudi Arabian Women

Manal is a Saudi Arabian artist. Her artwork is contemporary while it explores modern political issues in Saudi Arabia, especially ones regarding inequality and female laws within the country. Her artwork is a representation of female emotion, female oppression in terms of political controversy. 

The Choice (2005); Silver Gelatin 16 x 22inch

What is important to Manal is to make an impact on the viewer. In her most popular piece, Suspended Together, she unifies women around Saudi Arabia in representing them as a flock of birds. The birds are suspended in air yet are immobilized, reflecting the immobility of Saudi Arabain women in their own countries, in their own home. This piece shows the audience the feeling women have to deal with on a daily basis, as they need special slips in order to move around. The words of the slip are etched onto the white birds - free but not completely - from real slips allowing women from all around to travel. Manal wrote the following about the piece, “regardless of age and achievement, when it comes to travel, all these women are treated like a flock of suspended doves.”

In another work she explores the meaning of life through the prospects of daily activities. Women in Saudi Arabia were told in 2005 that they can now work, but only in areas, “suit their nature.” Nevertheless, Manal manages, through her art, shows a unity in powerful women and beyond. Through a series of photographs depicting portraits of women working in what they want to do, against the Saudi Arabian law, she undermines the statement and proves that women are suited for anything they want. She presents Saudi Arabian women of various disciplines that would not be considered, “natural” for women. 

This shows a sort of unity between what women think of oppression as they fight it. Manual also includes a piece of traditional jewelry in each photograph which is worn in a untraditional way, to further provoke standards which should be broken. We can also notice that the female faces are never fully revealed, leaving their identity anonymous but also allowing for any woman to look at the photograph and put herself into the image. Each photograph's title starts with the words, “I am” just as the name of the exhibition, which in contrast allows for each woman to represent and showcase her true identity. 

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