The work of Manal AlDowayan reveals a strong social consciousness and interest in the forms of women’s existence, particularly in her home country of Saudi Arabia. In participatory, socially engaged works that span from black-and-white photography, video and sound to large-scale installations, she questions social constraints and conceptions in order to investigate who and what is remembered and, conversely, forgotten. AlDowayan also collaborates with Saudi women from a wide range of professions and backgrounds in order to create genuine dialogue through art, promoting a stronger awareness of women’s rights and of social justice both in and out of the museum.
Doves appear frequently in AlDowayan’s work as representations of hope for freedom and peace, proposing an alternative symbol for the guardianship imposed on Saudi Arabian women, a prominent theme in much of her oeuvre. Suspended Together references the Saudi Arabian law that prohibits women from travelling out of the country without an official permission document from a male guardian. In this work, AlDowayan uses real travel permission documents donated to her by Saudi female intellectuals, engineers, artists and scientists. She embeds each of these documents onto a fiberglass dove and then installs the 124 birds so that they appear to fly over and towards the viewers. From faraway, the work appears to float like a beautiful mirage, but when we approach it we discover the travel certificates, a symbol of violence towards women. An artist-citizen, AlDowayan thus proposes to reflect on society and on laws that can evolve or change.