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“The written word is about engaging the viewer.” Let us introduce you to the cool Saudi Arabian artist Manal Al Dowayan, who here shares why she has chosen to integrate words into her art – and why they are so powerful.

In 2005, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia gave an inaugural speech, where he said that women should help build the country with men, bearing in mind that only 3 per cent of Saudi women were working, though sixty per cent had a higher education. Yet, the newspapers were quick to announce that this would only be in jobs that suited their gender: “So I started to question as an artist: What suits my nature as a woman? And who decides what suits my nature?” Following, Al Dowayan started photographing women who were in fact working. One woman brought a chalkboard that had the powerful words ‘Ignorance is darkness’ written over and over: “That was the beginning of me starting to use words in my art.”

Al Dowayan is fascinated by how she can continuously discover new words in Arabic, and how words can be kept alive: “Things that stay alive are things that are used. And things that die are the ones that are not used.” This, she feels, is also why the ancient words of The Quran have been kept alive – because people use them every day, thus protecting and preserving them.

By engaging with an artwork, Al Dowayan feels that one also becomes a part of it, which is even more possible with an artwork of written words: “You’re not only a receiver, you’re also a contributor to it. In the sense that you translate the words, you read them and on top of reading them you formulate your own opinion of what the meaning is within your mind, within your context of life.” The artwork of the written word – such as calligraphy – can thus become something quite different to the viewer than what the artist intended.

Manal Al Dowayan (b. 1973) is a Saudi Arabian artist, who uses photography and mixed media to capture the often contradictory relationships between tradition, political regulation and contemporary Saudi society. She is particularly occupied with gender issues such as the roles and rights of Saudi women through time. Al Dowayan has exhibited her work internationally including twice at the Venice Biennale (2009 and 2011) and the 2010 Berlin Biennale. Moreover, her artworks are part of the permanent collections of the British Museum, the Jordan National Museum of Fine Art, The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage and more. For more about her see: http://www.manaldowayan.com/

Manal Al Dowayan was interviewed by Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen in connection to the Art Alive festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark in May 2016.

Camera: Jacob Solbakken

Produced and edited by: Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen  

Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2016

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