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Running through November 24, 2024, Manal AlDowayan, a prominent contemporary artist from Saudi Arabia, showcases her latest work, “Shifting Sands: A Battle Song,” at the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, representing Saudi Arabia. The exhibition features AlDowayan’s multimedia installation that merges sculpture and sound to deliver a poignant narrative on Saudi womanhood today.

Set against the backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s cultural transformation, “Shifting Sands: A Battle Song” stands out in the Biennale’s theme, “Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere.” This theme addresses the solitude and communal experiences of outsiders, providing a fitting canvas for AlDowayan’s exploration of Saudi women’s evolving identities.

The installation’s conceptual foundation was laid during workshops across Saudi cities including Al Khobar, Jeddah, and Riyadh, where AlDowayan interacted with over 1,000 women. These interactions helped shape a collective voice that challenges prevailing misconceptions about Saudi women. The artwork incorporates the natural acoustics of the Rub‘ al-Khali or Empty Quarter, a vast desert known for its ‘singing sands’ that produce sounds when the wind passes over dunes.

Visitors to the National Pavilion of Saudi Arabia will experience a labyrinth of large, silk sculptures that mimic the desert rose crystals common near AlDowayan’s hometown of Dhahran. These sculptures carry inscriptions that reflect the personal and collective expressions of the women involved in her workshops, juxtaposed with media depictions of Saudi women. The installation uses these elements to critique and consider the portrayal of Saudi women in both local and global contexts.

Curated by Jessica Cerasi and Maya El Khalil, with Shadin AlBulaihed assisting, “Shifting Sands: A Battle Song” does more than just present a visual and auditory experience. It invites viewers to reconsider outdated stereotypes and acknowledge the dynamic role of women in Saudi society. The installation positions Saudi women not as passive subjects of societal transitions but as active participants and narrators of their own stories.

Dina Amin, CEO of the Visual Arts Commission, commented on the installation, highlighting its role in reflecting the significant strides made by Saudi women in recent years. According to Amin, AlDowayan’s work empowers women to “reclaim control of their own narrative,” resonating with the broader changes within Saudi society where women are increasingly recognized as key contributors to cultural and economic domains.


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