Manal Al Dowayan, Saudi Arabia/UAE Spring 2017 / by May Al-Dabbagh

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Born and raised in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, Manal Al Dowayan is a contemporary artist whose work focuses on the state of Saudi women and their representation. In her virtual class visit, Al Dowayan spoke about her most recent projects: the “Tree of Guardians”, which was later installed in Abu Dhabi’s Warehouse421, and “Crash”, which "explores the phenomena of women teachers from Saudi Arabia appointed to teach in remote village across the country [who] are dying in gruesome car crashes” (Al Dowayan, 2014).

The “Tree of Guardians” examines the concept of remembrance, specifically how women are remembered (or forgotten). Instead of focusing on the contributions of a few, notable women, the installation explores women collectively and the sum of their contributions. The questions raised by this installation, as with most of Al Dowayan’s work, connect closely with the themes examined in Women and Work in the Gulf. Like our trip to the Women’s Museum, “Tree of Guardians” prompted student reflection on who and what is obscured in historical narratives, which enriched our class readings and discussions on women and the state. Al Dowayan’s explanation of the collaborative process of creating “Tree of Guardians”— in a women’s space, with women of many nationalities — also added important texture to class discussions of women’s spaces, particularly in Saudi Arabia.