Ten artists from across the Gulf have been nominated for the second Richard Mille Art Prize. The full list can be found here.
Work by the artists is on show at Louvre Abu Dhabi until 19 March and the winner will be announced 20 March.
Sidelines, the work that Manal AlDowayan has chosen to exhibit in the Louvre Abu Dhabi, was made in 2017 and originally commissioned by the Jeddah-based arts initiative 21,39. Woven by Bedouin craftswomen in Saudi Arabia, it contrasts the unique beauty of their craft with the neglect they suffered as they moved away from their migratory lifestyles. “Bedouin women were at the centre of their communities. They would weave the tent, the home, the floor, the walls, then sold and traded these products to bring income into the family. But modernity came in and there have been huge tectonic shifts.”
In the artwork, a large wall of woven fabric hangs on chains that come down from the ceiling of the gallery. Half way to the ground, the weave starts to become broken and disconnected, before splaying out at the bottom. “[The weavers] were quite distressed about the idea of destroying the weave. That was something we did together. Just to symbolise the demise of what it means to be a craftsperson and where they stand in society.”
Sidelines is arranged in a spiral and visitors can walk into the centre, where they will find themselves surrounded by the thick, woven walls. AlDowayan hopes this will provide a moment of reflection where visitors can engage with the meaning of the work. “A lot of my works are like that. They find the moment when you move from aesthetics and beauty to the concept and its harshness.”
With a career spanning 20 years, AlDowayan (born in 1973 in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia) is one of the best-known contemporary artists from her native country, with works in collections around the world. She worked for oil company Saudi Aramco for ten years, where she joined the company’s art group and held exhibitions of her work. But when they wouldn’t allow her to study art further, she left to pursue a full-time career as an artist. She moved to Dubai, which offered a “global stage”, before coming to London to study at the Royal College of Art.
AlDowayan has seen seismic change in the art scene in the Gulf and is excited about the boom in museums in Saudi Arabia. She has been holding back some of her most important work for institutions in her home country: “It’s very important that my work stays here so that my grandchildren can go and visit.”