Artist Manal Al-Dowayan prepares for Venice Biennale by inviting hundreds of Saudi women to collaborate on art project

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ALKHOBAR: Saudi artist Manal Al-Dowayan conducted a workshop for art enthusiasts at the Fatat Al-Khaleej Society in her hometown of Alkhobar on Jan. 16.

It was the first of three workshops Al-Dowayan is hosting this month, with Jeddah and Riyadh still to come. The resulting artworks will form part of Al-Dowayan’s contribution to the National Pavilion of Saudi Arabia at the Venice Biennale in April.

For the last 20 years or so, Al-Dowayan has made a habit of bringing Saudi women together to work on her projects. Fatat Al-Khaleej, otherwise known as the Gulf Girl Charity Association, has been a landmark in the Eastern Province since it opened its doors in 1968 with the mission to offer a safe space to vulnerable Saudi women, including orphans. It was the perfect space to host the event, not least because it was the venue for Al-Dowayan’s first workshop back in 2012.




Participatory workshop for the Venice Biennale Commission. Photos by Iman Al-Dabbagh. (Photos by Iman Al-Dabbagh)

“The Eastern province, specifically Alkhobar, is where I found the support and encouragement that allowed me to take my first steps as an artist,” Al-Dowayan told Arab News. “It is only natural that I start this three-city tour for my Venice Biennale artwork here, having my family, my friends and my community help me kick off this exciting project.”

Aside from her sister and mother, many friends whom Al-Dowayan has known for years joined her at the workshop, which was attended by a wide range of art enthusiasts, from girls as young as six to women in their eighties, all coming together with a common goal: to create empowered Saudi women-centric art alongside Al-Dowayan, who has the ability to weave many voices into one, without losing the essence of any.

One of the artist’s friends who participated in the Alkhobar workshop was Mona Hassan, who also took part in many of Al-Dowayan’s earlier workshops, including the one in the same space 12 years earlier.

HIGHLIGHTS

• There was a sense of camaraderie and an encouraging atmosphere at the workshop, ensuring that each woman felt at ease expressing herself creatively and helping Al- Dowayan realize her vision.

• After completing her January workshops and prepping for the Venice Biennale, Al-Dowayan will be busy preparing for two upcoming exhibitions in AlUla.

“Manal’s workshops are always lighthearted and fun,” Hassan told Arab News. “It’s been really special to be a part of Manal’s many art projects over the years. I love that I could share this experience not only with Manal and all of our friends, but also with my two daughters, who have taken part in three of Manal’s workshops: ‘Suspended Together,’ ‘Esmi,’ and ‘Tree of Guardians.’”

For local multidisciplinary artist Afaf Aljishi, meanwhile, it was her first time working with Al-Dowayan.

“We are all connected, so today it was really a great opportunity to exchange this energy between us as women. As Saudi citizens and as Saudi women, we are empowered from within,” Aljishi told Arab News.




Participatory workshop for the Venice Biennale Commission. Photos by Iman Al-Dabbagh. (Photos by Iman Al-Dabbagh)

“Today was very inspirational for me because she (Al-Dowayan) took and gave; we exchanged energy and we exchanged our inspiration. This was my first time to meet Manal and sit with her,” she continued, adding that she hoped it would not be the last.

The workshops include breathing exercises and singing, which Al-Dowayan has introduced as ways of breaking the ice and helping the group feel more comfortable together. Ileana Yasmin, a professional singer who works at the Music Commission in Riyadh, is one of the group of women leading the workshops alongside Al-Dowayan, and focuses on helping the participants find their voices.

“Everyone gave from her heart, which was amazing,” Yasmin said of the Alkhobar event. “We had women from different age groups and different generations. It was good. I thought maybe some would be shy but it was very cozy, very friendly.”

There was a sense of camaraderie and an encouraging atmosphere at the workshop, ensuring that each woman felt at ease expressing herself creatively and helping Al-Dowayan realize her vision.

After completing her January workshops and prepping for the Venice Biennale, Al-Dowayan will be busy preparing for two upcoming exhibitions in AlUla.

Her next workshops take place in Jeddah at Hayy Jameel on Jan. 22 from 6-10 p.m. and in Riyadh on Jan. 25 at Al-Nahda Society from 4-8 p.m. Women and girls interested in participating can register via the Saudi Pavilion website or social media channels.

 

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