Mathaf Invites Artist To Show Her Creative Process

RESIZED IMG_0588.jpgConceptual artist Manal Al Dowayan has opened a project space at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art.

During her residency at Mathaf, Al Dowayan, of Saudi Arabia, will demonstrate the artistic process that goes on behind the scenes in an artist’s studio before they complete the final work of art.

Al Dowayan welcomed visitors and students to the project space, which opened on 25 January and will remain open until 31 March, to learn about her work, and participate in her research, as she creates ‘Crash’ a project which will be shown in the Cuadro Gallery during Dubai Art Fair to be held in March.

“I didn’t study art in art school,” says Al Dowayan, who has a Master’s degree in Systems Analysis and Design, and worked for an oil company for 10 years.

“I studied print-making and dark room printing with a master printer. I started off my career with black and white photographs. But there was no art industry in Saudi Arabia at that time. I was producing my photography with no audience to show it to.”

Al Dowayan’s early work made direct statements, she says, especially about women and their rights in Saudi Arabia, and were shown elsewhere in the Middle East and the rest of the world.

When she was invited to do a residency and took six months away from her job, Al Dowayan decided there was no turning back and dedicated herself to her artist career.

“‘Crash’ is a layered project and the final artwork is going to be quite abstract,” she says. “It expresses a very weird phenomenon in Saudi Arabia, in which women are appointed as teachers in remote villages and drive hours to get to their job. There is a death almost every week or two weeks. This is because the roads are dangerous and the cars do not meet safety standards.
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“Cars often don’t have seat belts and sometimes the seats are even removed in order to allow women to sleep in the back, because the women leave between 2am and 4am.

“The issue for me is that it’s repeated so much that people in Saudi Arabia have become numb to it. And, they never mention the names of the women. This woman, if she dies, how many people will remember her?”

She said ‘Crash’ follows previous work surrounding the theme of ‘forgetting’, and like previous projects, is ‘participatory art’; which invites people to get involved.

Al Dowayan’s research, including the travel slips donated by the teachers, internet research, newspaper reports, stories, interviews, data, and statistics, is mapped across the walls of the studio in Mathaf. She says: “There’s little knowledge of the process that happens before an artist produces the final artwork. Usually I spend a couple of years researching a project, collecting materials, and talking to people. I do that in my studio and in the end I give it to a gallery.

“Mathaf invited me to take over this space and bring the studio process here. This space is experimental and people will come to visit and talk, and I will document these conversations as part of the research. Any gaps that I find in my research, I fill them via creative means. And from that I produce a body of work.

“It is a unique situation, and I hope a lot of young artists get to see this, and there are going to be a lot of talks with students and members of the public. Mathaf provides a modern platform to experiment. “This is something very unique. I have never been invited to do this in the Middle East, although it’s a trend that’s growing in the art scene.

“Artists need the support of institutions like Mathaf, which are not commercial, but are documenting and experimenting and displaying art to the public. Their contribution to an artist’s career is integral. There are going to be more institutions like this in the region, but right now there is only one, in Doha.”