Manal Al Dowayan
- Manal Al Dowayan
- Suspended Together
- fibreglass with laminate coating, in one hundred and twenty-five parts
- Executed in 2011, this work is unique.
Dubai, Edge of Arabia, Terminal, 2011
Exhibition Catalogue, Dubai, Edge of Arabia, Terminal, 2011, pp. 110-111, illustrated in colour
Al Dowayan’s use of the dove motif, multiplied on a vast scale, acquires immense significance, inviting associations with ancient forms of universal symbolism. Although each dove appears to be pure white from a distance, closer inspection reveals that the wings and body of each bird are stamped with an exact reproduction of a permission document: an official form of paperwork that allows a Saudi woman to travel only when issued by their male guardian. Al Dowayan invited Saudi women of all ages and backgrounds to donate their permission documents, resulting in an overwhelming response from leading female scientists, journalists and engineers amongst other professions. The original symbolism is thus rendered inexorably more profound and complex. By the inclusion of the permission documents Al Dowayan ensures Suspended Together stands as a monument to the silent bravery of Saudi women in coping with the restrictions placed upon their everyday movements and activities, despite being capable of engaging in a variety of challenging professions.
The doves that make up Suspended Together reflect Al Dowayan’s sense of frustration at the curtailment of career opportunities for women within the country of her birth: the doves hang suspended, unable to move forwards or to make a break for freedom. They remain isolated in a moment in time, the fragility of their porcelain wings reflecting the concomitant uncertainties of women’s position in society. This concept of the doves, indelibly stamped by the permission documents of large numbers of immensely capable women - represents the limited options of profession and movement open to women. This is reinforced by the artist’s own commentary on Suspended Together: “Regardless of age and achievement, when it comes to travel, all these women are treated like a flock of suspended doves.” (The artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Venice, The Future of a Promise, 2011, n.p.).
Al Dowayan’s life has left her almost uniquely qualified to examine societal issues through means of her art. Born in Saudi Arabia, she was educated in Dubai, Bahrain and London as well as her native country, allowing her to gain an international perspective on the position of women within different areas of the world. Her creative oeuvre to date has focused particularly on the position of women within society and her distinctive and powerful artistic language has been recognised internationally and honoured through the inclusion of examples of her work within museums such as the British Museum in London, The Jordan National Museum of Fine Art and The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage. Ultimately, Suspended Together represents a moving summation of Al-Dowayan’s ideals and concerns regarding the freedom of women, as Roberto Lopardo argues: “The artwork does what it can to address the issue at hand in the most elegant, insistent, and clear manner. Suspended Together makes no apologies for what it is and what it says. There is no mincing of words or ideas here.” (Robert Lopardo, "Manal Al Dowayan: The Art of Engagement" in: Contemporary Practices, Vol. X, 2012, p. 159). Ultimately, Suspended Together can be regarded as the pinnacle of Al Dowayan’s career to date: a gloriously poetic work which expresses complex issues in an arresting and brilliantly emotive manner.