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‘Shifting Sands: A Battle Song’ at Venice Biennale: Saudi Arabia's Spotlight on Women's Roles by Manal AlDowayan

The multimedia work by Saudi artist Manal AlDowayan in the Saudi Pavilion at the 2024 Biennale Arte in Venice has been named "Shifting Sands: A Battle Song." Inspired by the changing roles of women in Saudi society, the installation stems from AlDowayan's engagement with over 1,000 women during workshops held in Al Khobar, Jeddah, and Riyadh in January.

These workshops, facilitated by AlDowayan and vocal coach Ileana Yasmin, encouraged women to participate in group singing sessions and contemplate the themes of visibility and invisibility, especially in the context of global media. Participants were prompted to reflect on each other's experiences and express themselves through writing and illustrations. AlDowayan aims to amplify these voices on the international stage of the Biennale Arte, incorporating their contributions into her artwork.

AlDowayan's process involved going back to her community to look into the past and how it's changed. "Shifting Sands: A Battle Song" is about Saudi women standing together and taking control of their own stories, challenging old ideas and affirming who they are.

The workshops, held in partnership with organizations like Hayy Jameel in Jeddah, revisited spaces significant to AlDowayan's earlier works. These include Esmi—My Name and Tree of Guardians: Fatat Al-Khaleej Society and Al-Nahda Society, which have historically empowered Saudi women and orphans.

Curators Jessica Cerasi and Maya El Khalil, along with assistant curator Shadin AlBulaihed, commend AlDowayan's installation for its powerful portrayal of Saudi womanhood, transcending cultural boundaries and supporting independence and unity. Dina Amin, CEO of the Visual Arts Commission, praises AlDowayan for elevating Saudi women's voices onto the global stage of La Biennale Arte.

"Shifting Sands: A Battle Song" will be exhibited at the National Pavilion of Saudi Arabia at the Arsenale, Sale d’Armi, Venice, Italy, from April 20 to November 24, 2024.

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