As an artist in Saudi Arabia, Manal AlDowayan has never had the privilege of government endowments or a robust art industry to support her.
“Our art scene is not funded by the government in the sense of, you don’t have museums, and galleries are all privately owned,” AlDowayan says. “Nobody is asking anybody to do this, but it’s just happening naturally.”
As a woman in the kingdom, she has witnessed cycles of discrimination and conservatism seeking to keep her gender out of the public sphere; some men in the kingdom now even find mentioning a wife’s or mother’s name publicly to be a source of shame.
But she’s also witnessed a public discourse on the role women should hold in society, with King Abdullah and other vocal members of society (herself included) championing the female cause.
That push and pull in society, as well as her own experiences growing up in the kingdom, have been a great source of inspiration for AlDowayan’s works. And it’s in that space that she seeks to rewrite the Saudi female narrative.
Although she says her artwork has never been censored in the kingdom, and she’s won the support of the local press, it’s still an uphill battle to change perceptions of who and what women should be in a modern Saudi society.
“There’s a push from different sides. Of course, there’s a stronger push against a lot of change. And change is very scary for a lot of people. But change will happen,” she says.
A solo exhibition of her works is on at Katara Galleries (Building 19) for another week, highlighting works she’s developed over the last decade.
Credit: Photos by Omar Chatriwala, artwork by Manal AlDowayan