Manal AlDowayan (b. 1973, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia) has a Masters degree in Systems Analysis and Design. She was the Creative Director of the Saudi Arabian oil company for ten years before becoming a full-time artist. She has participated in several residencies including Delfina Foundation in London and The Townhouse Gallery in Cairo, and her work was presented in the Venice Biennale in 2011 and 2009, the Berlin Biennale in 2010, and as part of a satellite exhibition that coincided with Contemporary Istanbul in 2010. Her work is included in the permanent collections of the British Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Mathaf Museum of Modern Arab Art, and the Jordan National Museum of Fine Art, among many others.
History is at once stable and elusive. Often, we build collective and individual memory through images, using fragments of the past to moor ourselves in time and place. In the series If I Forget You, Don’t Forget Me, Manal AlDowayan, who was born in 1973 in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, reconstructs the experiences of her late father’s generation so as to place herself and her contemporaries in the present moment. Bridging the experiences of different age groups at different points in Saudi Arabian history, AlDowayan’s video interviews and photographic still lifes of keepsakes recover a lost sense of optimism and community. The men and women represented in the series are all former employees of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Aramco), where the artist herself worked for a time. The discovery of oil in 1938 brought improvements to the country’s infrastructure and more opportunities for young Saudis. The spirit of those twentieth-century students and families resonates as a model for those facing the country’s current challenges.
As AlDowayan explained in a 2013 interview, “It was a time for leadership to emerge among young, ambitious Saudis. It was an era of dreaming, and seeing those dreams come true.” In other works, such as I Am a Petroleum Engineer, AlDowayan renders her dream for the future of Saudi Arabia by representing the women who work for Aramco today. Despite increasing numbers of women in the workforce and at universities, they still need to obtain permission from a male guardian to work, travel, or receive medical treatment. In the I Am series, the artist demonstrates the vital role of female workers in a variety of fields and, through the conspicuous placement of traditional jewelry, questions the obstacles encountered by many. While the past can never be recaptured, AlDowayan stitches together pieces of history to suggest the power of the present and future generations to shape Saudi Arabia for the better. She utilizes an intergenerational collaborative approach—images from her parents’ generation serve as source material for her photos and videos that explore Saudia Arabia’s past and the possibilities of constructing a new vision for its future.