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Empowering Voices: Women Curators Lead Saudi Pavilion at 60th Venice Biennale with 'Stranieri Ovunque — Foreigners Everywhere

LEFT TO RIGHT: Maya El Khalil, Manal AlDowayan, Shadin AlBulaihed, Jessica Cerasi.

This year, the National Pavilion of Saudi Arabia at the 60th Venice Biennale will be curated entirely by a team of women. Jessica Cerasi, Maya El-Khalil, and assistant curator Shadin AlBulaihed are collaborating with artist Manal AlDowayan on her installation, which will be unveiled on April 20th under the heading "Stranieri Ovunque — Foreigners Everywhere." AlDowayan, a prominent contemporary artist from Saudi Arabia, employs various mediums such as photography, sound, sculpture, and participatory art to explore traditions, collective memories, and the portrayal of women.

AlDowayan's upcoming work for the Venice Biennale is anticipated to incorporate participatory elements, particularly involving Saudi women. Cerasi, El-Khalil, and AlBulaihed bring considerable expertise to the pavilion. Cerasi, based in Abu Dhabi, previously collaborated with AlDowayan on a participatory artwork at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. She has also worked extensively with Gulf artists and served as assistant curator at both the Venice and Sydney Biennales.

One of Manal AlDowayan's participatory workshop for the Venice Biennale Commission in Al Khobar.

El-Khalil, the founder of Athr Gallery in Jeddah, has been instrumental in fostering the local art scene and promoting international dialogue. She has a longstanding partnership with AlDowayan, having curated her first solo exhibition in Saudi Arabia and contributed to her participatory projects.

AlBulaihed, hailing from the Misk Art Institute, focuses on local narratives and cultural engagement, aligning well with AlDowayan's community-oriented approach. She previously participated in Saudi Arabia's pavilion at the Venice Architectural Biennale.

Manal AlDowayan's 2012 work 'Esmi- My Name.'

For AlDowayan, participatory art is vital, symbolizing the presence of voices often overlooked in traditional narratives. Through collaborative workshops, she emphasizes the power of collective expression, particularly among women. Despite societal changes in Saudi Arabia, she remains concerned about preserving these "counter-public" spaces.

AlBulaihed views her collaboration with AlDowayan as an opportunity to challenge stereotypes and elevate female artists on a global stage. She sees it as a chance to showcase Saudi Arabian artistic contributions and to represent her nation as a woman who has benefited from educational opportunities.

Jessica Cerasi (L) and Maya El-Khalil.

The all-female curatorial team for the Saudi Arabian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale reflects a commitment to diversity, collaboration, and the empowerment of women in the arts. Their work not only highlights the talent of Manal AlDowayan but also contributes to broader conversations about representation and cultural exchange.

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