The image which will open the Saudi capital's first contemporary art space
Saudi Arabia is so conservative women are not allowed drive, open bank accounts or get a job with a male guardian’s permission.
But contemporary art is enabling women to express themselves in new ways. The first contemporary art galley in the heart of the regime, the capital Riyadh, will open on 26 September with work by three women artists - well known photographer Manal Al Dowayan and two emerging mixed media artists Sarah Abu Abdallah and Sarah Mohanna Al-Abdali.
The exhibition, called SoftPower is curated by another woman, Sara Raza, the former curator of public programmes for Tate Modern in London, and will be the inaugural exhibition at the Alaan Artspace
in the heart of Ridyah.
In a society where women are not allowed to leave the house without a head-covering and a long black cloak, the title image of the exhibition is striking: a bareheaded and bald woman.The gallery says the works employ a nuanced and at times humorous approach towards exploring the position of women within contemporary society, forgoing militant tactics for those of solidarity, ambiguity and irony.
A coup for the new gallery is a loan from Manal Al Dowayan. Al Dowayan
is an established photographer and installation artist whose work has exhibited widely internationally including at the Venice Biennale. Her work pushes the boundaries of exploring women's experience in Saudi Arabia.
One striking work is Suspended Together
, a large installation that uses the permission documents Saudi women are forced to have to travel and translates them into what appears to be a flock of doves, suspended but unable to move.
Alāan Artspace – which means ‘now’ in Arabic – will offer both curated exhibitions and a non-profit educational forum for artists, creative practitioners and art enthusiasts of all ages.
Although it is the first such gallery in the capital, several such places have led to a boom in contemporary art in the second city Jeddah, the Red Sea port which is also the heart of tourism in Saudi Arabia and the gateway to Mecca.