The surrealists substituted the “interior landscape” for the romantic idea of landscape as a “state of the soul”. Max Ernst and Yves Tanguy represented dreams and the unconscious as deserts, punctuated with figures and objects. Strange and ghostly, the images in the series Landscapes of the Mind belong at first glance to this tradition.
The eclecticism of the series evokes the disruption of a surrealist collage: over photographs of views of her region, the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, the artist has affixed codified motifs from other styles ; women in black veils, compressed silhouettes, imposed figures of all media representation of the kingdom. Eyes and made-up mouths floating in the sky, rising index of women’s hands dyed with henna, monumental, on top of a mountain or a petrol tank, doves, palm trees. How is this for exoticism?
The repetition of these signs, symbols of glamour recalls the seriality reminiscent of Pop Art, while the landscapes which make up the background of the images are arid, “without qualities” and difficult to interpret. With her montage, Manal Al Dowayan, confronts her personal vision of these landscapes, fed by her own experience, with that of an observer of the outside, a foreigner, troubled by projections and stereotypes.
It is also about underlining the absence of autonomy, of visibility and of freedom of speech for women, in this oil-producing region but also throughout the kingdom. The mouths and pointed fingers are emblems for speech and the affirmation of self, the doves represent liberty. By associating objectivity and fantasy, the individual’s perception and the collective imagination, a feminine viewpoint and a masculine organisation of space, Manal Al-Dowayan highlights the part of construction in reading a landscape.
Translated by Theodora Taylor