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Manal AlDowayan: Dual Exhibitions in AlUla's Wadi AlFann, Valley of the Arts

Manal AlDowayan, a prominent contemporary artist from Saudi Arabia, focuses her work on themes of cultural evolution, communal narratives, and the portrayal of women, particularly within her homeland. Selected to represent Saudi Arabia at the upcoming Venice Biennale, AlDowayan is currently featured in two exhibitions in AlUla, forming part of the preliminary events for Wadi AlFann, a significant forthcoming cultural hub dedicated to art, design, and performance.

As part of the AlUla Arts Festival 2024, the first exhibition, titled "Oasis of Stories," has a multitude of illustrations and stories sourced from AlUla local communities and is on view at the AlJadidah Arts District through March 23. AlDowayan describes AlUla as a repository of stories, where various civilizations have left their imprint on the landscape over centuries, offering insights into their tools, agricultural practices, and ways of life.

These intricate portrayals of daily life were crafted in workshops led by AlDowayan, with participation from a diverse group of AlUla residents, such as farmers, cooks, teachers, tour guides, artists, students, craftsmen, sports teams, and a disability association. Participants were tasked with illustrating their narratives, resulting in moving representations that encapsulate the realities, aspirations, and desires of AlUla's inhabitants as well as the beauty of the surrounding area.

AlDowayan's objective is to provide the people of AlUla today with a public artwork that will serve as a platform for their tales to live on and remain preserved for future generations. This exhibition marks a crucial juncture in the advancement of AlDowayan's enduring expansive desert installation project for Wadi AlFann, likewise known as "Oasis of Stories," scheduled to be finished by 2026.

This installation, which takes its cues from the winding passageways and walls of AlUla's Old Town, will use the tales and drawings from the workshops, giving the people of AlUla a chance to contribute to a major piece of regional art.

AlDowayan's collaboration with Sabrina Amrani Gallery in Madrid presents her second exhibition "Their Love Is Like All Loves, Their Death Is Like All Deaths," a profound exploration of ruin, inspired by AlUla's ancient tombs. The exhibition features diverse sculptural works and drawings, including soft desert rose-shaped sculptures, intricate Sadu weaving, and labyrinthine drawings, echoing AlUla's heritage.

AlDowayan emphasizes the importance of making art accessible to all, particularly amidst Saudi Arabia's transformative period where public art is increasingly commissioned across the Kingdom. This vision aligns with the broader goal of embedding art within communities, fostering a cultural renaissance in Saudi Arabia.

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