Few artists understand metamorphosis as keenly as Saudi artist Manal AlDowayan. Long invested in interrogating the gender-biased customs that impact the condition of women in Saudi Arabia, AlDowayan is a sensitive yet critical witness to the cultural transformations 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 female schoolteachers. Equally recognized for her work in sound, neon, and sculpture, AlDowayan 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 address unjust social customs, and more recently, Now You See Me, Now You Don’t (2020), land art for Desert X AlUla.
AlDowayan’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, AlDowayan’s artistic engagement with this new metamorphosis promises to be bolder and more incisive than ever.
In 2021, AlDowayan participates in the Northern Alps Festival, Omachi, Japan and the upcoming first contemporary Art Biennale in Saudi Arabia, the Ad-Diriyah Biennale. She has exhibited extensively, including Reflections: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa at the British Museum (2021), at 21,39 Jeddah Arts (2020 and 2017), Boghossian Foundation, Brussels (2018), The Aga Khan Museum (2018), Crude, the inaugural exhibition of Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai (2019), Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk (2016). Her works are held in the collections of The British Museum, London; King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, Dhahran; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH).
She 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. Born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia in 1973, AlDowayan currently lives and works between London, Dhahran and Dubai.
Born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia in 1973, AlDowayan currently lives and works between London, Dhahran and Dubai.