Challenging Stereotypes: Saudi and Lebanon Pavilions at Venice Biennale

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Saudi Pavilion: Challenging Stereotypes

Saudi Pavilion: Challenging Stereotypes

In the desert-hued pavilion of Saudi Arabia at the Venice Biennale, a rising harmonised humming fills the space. These are the voices of some 1,000 Saudi women that artist Manal AlDowayan has “brought with her” to the international exhibition. With her all-female team of curators, AlDowayan’s installation aims to be a rebuttal of the international media’s preconceptions of women in Saudi Arabia and an amplification of their own voices instead.

A Unique Installation

A Unique Installation

The Saudi pavilion in the Arsenale is filled with giant, roughly circular silk panels suspended vertically from the ceiling or rising up from the floor. They recall the desert rose, a crystal formation that appears in the dunes near where AlDowayan lives. Forming under duress by intense rainfall followed by extreme heat, the desert rose represents the strength and power of Saudi women for AlDowayan.

Empowering Women’s Voices

Grouped into arrangements, the beige silk panels nearest the front and back entrances are heavily inked with newspaper text. The writing overlaps but some emboldened phrases remain legible: ‘repressed’, ‘an enigma’, ‘the Dark Ages’. These phrases represent the narrative imposed by the European press on Saudi women, which AlDowayan aims to disempower.

Symbolic Representation

Symbolic Representation

The crystal formations in the centre of the room are decorated with decipherable lines of poetry and distinct drawings. These were produced during workshops in Saudi Arabia with over 1,000 women participants. The installation also includes a sound element resembling the humming of sand dunes, symbolizing the strength of women’s voices and their impact.

Lebanon Pavilion: Reinterpreting Myths

Lebanon Pavilion: Reinterpreting Myths

In Lebanon’s pavilion, artist Mounira AI Solh challenges the male gaze and the way it has shaped the ancient myth of Europa. Like AlDowayan, she returns the narrative power to the woman.

[Additional content for Lebanon Pavilion]

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