Manal Al Dowayan

Manal Al Dowayan

Protecting Words

“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:

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

  • Ed Atkins

    Something is Missing

    Ed Atkins is considered one of the most unsettling contemporary artists – as well as one of the most exciting. In this video, the young British artist shares how he works from written texts, and why melancholy is at the centre of his animated digital videos.

  • Louisa Gagliardi

    Longing for Something Else

    “Art is amazing because it’s in a way unnecessary, but extremely necessary as a testimony of its time.” Let us introduce you to a rising star of painting, Louisa Gagliardi, who creates her surreal work digitally and adds layers of paint to the printed image.

  • Hannah Levy

    A Design Purgatory

    “I wonder if the reason why people want to touch it is that they’re in some way attracted to it, or if they’re repulsed by it.” Meet the young artist Hannah Levy, who primarily makes sculptures combining curving steel forms with cast silicone.

  • Dora Budor

    Acting Things

    “I want to use art as a field where I can explore parallel scenarios.” Dora Budor makes complex sculptures and interactive installations inspired by cinematic metaverse and scientific research. Join us as we visit the young Croatian artist in her studio.

  • Ian Cheng

    A Portal to Infinity

    Watch Ian Cheng, a rising star on the art scene, talk about his trilogy of animated live simulation works – ‘Emissaries’ – which works like a never-ending video game in real time: “It was a process that was on-going as life is on-going.”

  • Yona Friedman

    Advice to the Young

    What piece of advice would a renowned 94-year-old architect offer young architects? Find out in this short video, where Yona Friedman argues that architects must always adapt to the context and work for the average user.

  • Jan Gehl

    How to Build a Good City

    “We now know that first, we form the cities, but then the cities form us.” Meet the 81-year-old Danish architect Jan Gehl, who for more than fifty years has focused on improving the quality of urban life by helping people “re-conquer the city.”

  • Marina Abramović & Ulay

    A Living Door of the Museum

    Standing naked in the main entrance of a museum, facing each other while the audience passes sideways through the small space. Legendary performance artists Marina Abramović and Ulay share the story behind their poetic work ‘Imponderabilia’.

  • Bill Viola

    Cameras are Soul Keepers

    When video artist Bill Viola was 6 years old he fell into a lake, all the way to the bottom, to a place which seemed like paradise. "There's more than just the surface of life." Viola explains. "The real things are under the surface".

  • Wang Shu

    Architecture is a Job for God

    The Chinese architect Wang Shu’s buildings – a crossover between traditional Chinese culture and large-scale modern architecture – have earned him prestigious awards. “Democracy means a really diverse society,” says the architect in this inspiring interview.

  • Margrethe Odgaard

    Colour Diary of New York

    Becoming more aware of your surroundings can “open a new dimension inside as well as outside yourself.” Meet award-winning Danish designer Margrethe Odgaard who has trained herself to register the world through colours.

  • Nick Cave

    The World is my Skin

    Have you ever wished that you could put on a suit which would open up the imagination and take you to the world of your dreams? In this video artist Nick Cave presents his wearable sculptures, the 'Soundsuits', made from discarded everyday materials.