La Biennale di Venezia 2024: Saudi Pavilion: ‘Shifting Sands: A Battle Song’ by Manal AlDowayan

Manal AlDowayan is set to represent Saudi Arabia at the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia from April 20 to November 24, 2024, with her multimedia installation titled “Shifting Sands: A Battle Song.” This marks Saudi Arabia’s fourth participation in the Biennale Arte, and notably, the third National Pavilion featuring women artists.

Manal AlDowayan, Shifting Sands: A Battle Song, 2024. Multimedia installation, Tussar silk, ink, acrylic paint. Dimensions variable. Sound, multichannel, 30’48”. Photography by venicedocumentationproject. Courtesy of the Visual Arts Commission, the Commissioner for the National Pavilion of Saudi Arabia.

AlDowayan, a keen observer of the cultural shifts in her homeland, explores the evolving role of women in Saudi society through her art. “Shifting Sands: A Battle Song” captures the essence of Saudi women during this transformative period, blending the sonic and geological elements of the desert with women’s voices. The installation challenges stereotypes and offers a collective expression of Saudi women’s lives.

Leading up to her commission, AlDowayan conducted workshops across Saudi Arabia, engaging over 1,000 women in discussions about their portrayal in media. These sessions provided a platform for women to assert their voices individually and collectively, echoing the vibrations of the desert sands.

Manal AlDowayan, Shifting Sands: A Battle Song, 2024. Multimedia installation, Tussar silk, ink, acrylic paint. Dimensions variable. Sound, multichannel, 30’48”. Photography by venicedocumentationproject. Courtesy of the Visual Arts Commission, the Commissioner for the National Pavilion of Saudi Arabia.

The installation features sound and sculpture, integrating the unique phenomenon of the singing dunes with soft sculptures resembling desert roses, a symbol of femininity and resilience. Texts sourced from workshops’ participants and media headlines adorn the sculptures, highlighting the societal narratives surrounding Saudi women.

AlDowayan’s artwork aims to inspire women to find their voices and spaces within a changing society. She emphasises the significance of media representations and collective memory in shaping perceptions of women. Through her commission, AlDowayan empowers Saudi women to reclaim control of their narratives.

Dina Amin, CEO of the Visual Arts Commission, praises AlDowayan’s profound reflection on Saudi women’s journey specifically their strength and ambition. The curators Jessica Cerasi and Maya El Khalil commend AlDowayan’s resistance to “othering” narratives, offering unheard voices in an immersive work that looks toward the future.

Manal AlDowayan, Shifting Sands: A Battle Song, 2024. Multimedia installation, Tussar silk, ink, acrylic paint. Dimensions variable. Sound, multichannel, 30’48”. Photography by venicedocumentationproject. Courtesy of the Visual Arts Commission, the Commissioner for the National Pavilion of Saudi Arabia.

About Manal AlDowayan

Manal AlDowayan stands as a prominent figure in Saudi Arabia’s contemporary art scene, with a global presence spanning photography, sound, sculpture, and participatory art. Her diverse body of work explores tradition, collective memory, and the portrayal of women.

AlDowayan’s art has graced esteemed venues worldwide, from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in the USA to the British Museum in the UK, among many others. Her pieces reside in prestigious collections like the British Museum and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

A graduate of the Royal College of Art, London, AlDowayan’s journey reflects her commitment to artistic evolution and societal transformation, echoing in her selection for the Biennale Arte 2024.

Location: The Arsenale, Sale d’Armi, Venice, Italy.

Dates: April 20 to November 24, 2024.

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