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  • Mar 19, 2024

Over 1,000 Women Contributed to Manal AlDowayan’s Project for Venice

Participatory workshops for MANAL ALDOWAYAN’s Shifting Sands: A Battle Song, 2024. Photo by Iman Aldabbagh. Courtesy of the Visual Arts Commission, the Commissioner for the National Pavilion of Saudi Arabia.

The National Pavilion of Saudi Arabia announced details of Shifting Sands: A Battle Song (2024), a multimedia installation by artist Manal AlDowayan at the upcoming Venice Biennale on March 18. The work is comprised of recorded singing, texts, and drawings created by more than 1,000 women who participated in the artist’s three workshops held in the cities of Al Khobar, Jeddah, and Riyadh in January.  

The London-based artist is known for her participatory practice that are developed through workshops with women and other communities across Saudi Arabia. In preparation for Shifting Sands: A Battle Song, AlDowayan hosted open events in January where women of all ages were invited to take part in group singing sessions led by the artist and Ileana Yasmin, a vocal coach for the Music Commission under the Ministry of Culture in Riyadh. The participants were also encouraged to write about and illustrate what they saw in each other, and to reflect on ideas of visibility and invisibility through the global media.

AlDowayan explains that the act of bearing witness to one another was “intended to center the gaze from within, and to empower the voices of the participants” and “a rally to take ownership of our identity as we navigate both the physical space we inhabit and the narratives that have historically defined us.”

Co-curators Jessica Cerasi and Maya El Khalil and assistant curator Shadin AlBulaihed said: “AlDowayan’s multi-layered installation for the Biennale di Venezia evokes a powerful vision of womanhood in Saudi Arabia today . . . It asserts autonomy and solidarity among women and will find resonances all over the world.”

The Saudi Arabia Pavilion, “Shifting Sands: A Battle Song,” will be on view from April 20 until November 24, 2024, at the Sale d’Armi building of the Arsenale at the Venice Biennale.

Camilla Alvarez-Chow is an editorial assistant at ArtAsiaPacific

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