Saudi Arabia, a country known for its strict laws limiting women’s rights, is in the midst of major change. In 2011, Saudi King Abdullah announced that women would have the right to vote and run in the nation’s 2015 elections. Although the country is making efforts to reduce gender separation, there is still much controversy over women’s positions.
Sawyer Business School alumna, multimedia artist, and Saudi Arabia native Manal Al Dowayan (BSBA ’99) is renowned for capturing her country’s gender issues in her work.
"My Name" by Manal Al Dowayan
Her latest project, “My Name,” explores the idea that saying a woman’s name out loud has recently become offensive in Saudi Arabian culture. To create the piece, she enlisted the help of 300 Saudi women from Khobar, Riyadh, and Jeddah.
The women attended workshops in December, where they wrote their names on large beads that they then positioned together to form one communal piece. “There was a sense of euphoria and joy among the participating women,” Al Dowayan said.
Dania Dialdin, a Strategy & International Business professor at Sawyer Business School, was among the participants. As a Saudi Arabia native and close friend of Al Dowayan, Dialdin said the workshop was a “fantastic” experience. “I was very proud to see how she inspired the women at the workshop. I am very proud of her success!” Dialdin said. The final piece was “breathtakingly gorgeous,” she added.
United by their shared experience, the women created a single statement when the artwork was finished: “Our names will be preserved, and we will not allow the Saudi woman’s name to be erased, replaced, nor become a source of shame.” Al Dowayan hopes the piece evokes feelings of empowerment and community among Saudi women.
Al Dowayan’s art, along with the work of 21 other Saudi artists, was displayed at Edge of Arabia’s exhibition at Jeddah’s Al Furusia Marina in Saudi Arabia in February. The exhibition, entitled “We Need to Talk,” is now exhibiting in various other cities.
Some of Al Dowayan’s earlier works have also centered on gender-specific issues in Saudi Arabia. “Most of my art is very personal and addresses my struggles and concerns, but I have always sought the help of Saudi women to produce my art ideas,” Al Dowayan said.
In 2009, she developed a portrait series that highlighted pertinent issues like driving and employment. In 2011, Al Dowayan created her first participatory project called “Suspended Together,” which addressed the issue of travel for Saudi women. It was displayed at the 2011 Venice Biennale as part of the pan-Arab exhibition, “Future of a Promise.”
Al Dowayan’s interest in art started at a young age, and as a Suffolk student, she found inspiration in the city. “While in Boston I was beginning to explore my love for art thanks to the beautiful museums and galleries in the city,” she said.
Although she ultimately pursued a career in art, she still considers her business knowledge to be an important aspect of her success. Having a background in technology and business has “allowed me to make a career out of my artistic practice,” she said.