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JEDDAH: Saudi contemporary artist Manal Al-Dowayan was among the first Saudi, GCC and Arab designers to showcase and represent their heritage in a collection of handbags for one of the famous French brands in the history of fashion, Dior.

“Dior was cool enough to allow me to make a bag. As an artist, you’re supposed to take the bag, change it, and add it. But I told them, I was just thinking of adding something completely different, and they agreed. Now we made it together. It’s supposed to be a sculpture in the shape of a bag,” Al-Dowayan said.
The Al-Dowayan Lady Dior collection is made of materials and techniques using leather stitching, 3D printing, calfskin, embroidered black feathers and black and white photography. With the Dior design team, Al-Dowayan produced three pieces – “The Boys”, “Landscape of the Mind” and a mini minaudière-style bag, “Desert Rose” – showcasing his Saudi heritage and nostalgic aspects of his personal memories.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Al-Dowayan said the first bag, “The Boys”, was inspired by an artwork collection she created in 2016.
“I had developed this one by reusing Kodak film slides that my father had taken in 1962 in Saudi Arabia, specifically in Qassim,” she said.

Manal AlDowayan, the first Arab woman to transmit her art and design to the world famous French brand Dior. (Provided)

“I was thinking about the identity of this bag and what I was trying to say through it, which was basically the huge moment of transformation that we are going through in Saudi Arabia. As people in the culture, I think we reconnect to who we are, what and how we dress, what we look like and how we speak in a uniquely very, very different way that is much more focused on who we are, rather than looking outward and trying to imitate the outside,” she said.
The second bag, “Landscapes of the Mind”, was inspired by a collection she made in 2009, of an ancient work of art where Al-Dowayan questions many aspects of the experience of Saudi women. over the past two years.
“When I had developed landscapes of the mind, I looked at the concept of this landscape belongs to me? Or am I part of it? So it was really about belonging, and if I was invited to stay in that landscape or, you know, women in public space, that was my question. So we have to exist in private spaces. I think with this bag I introduce that idea, but in a very different way. I think the explosion of women in the public space, their open invitation to participate, to build and to cooperate alongside their fellow human beings is a marvelous moment in our history. And I wanted that documented in the spec,” she said.
Al-Dowayan expressed her feelings about when the pandemic peaked in 2020. She wrote a statement in Arabic that translates to “I live and die for now” and applied it to the design of the bag . “The idea behind this was really a statement of where we are in our pandemic days in 2020, where we don’t know what will happen tomorrow to our home, to our country, to our planet, and I encourage you to live and die for now,” she said.
Commenting on ‘Desert Rose’, Al-Dowayan said, “It’s a form I’ve explored throughout my artistic practice over the past four years as a recent addition to my work and I’m very interested by its ephemeral existence. “The bag depicts a crystalline rose that only exists in a few deserts in the world, including the desert outside Al-Dowayan’s mother’s house. It also exists in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as Saudi Arabia shares the same desert in the eastern region.
Al-Dowayan said: “This crystalline form does not exist from all eternity because it dissolves at some point, it only has a lifespan of 10 years. And given that, in recent years, I focused a lot on the ideas of disability and disappearance, especially in my trampolines which were developed at AlUla.
Al-Dowayan joined a Lady Dior Art program themed around the sixth edition of Dior Lady Bag, held in Riyadh in 2020 where 12 other international artists participated to represent their art and creations through these bags. The iconic classic mid-size leather bag has been reinvented and rebuilt over the years in many different colors, editions and collections. The artistic program was a cross-cultural collaboration that gave each artist the chance to add their inspirational story to every piece they produce.
In line with this artistic project, Dior has launched a podcast to accompany the Lady Dior Art bag, for the new series of talented artists to share the stories behind the artworks and designs applied to the handbags. The limited edition of the bags with Al-Dowayan’s art was released at the end of December 2021 when Dior tweeted @Dior: “Recasting her charms in Arabic letters, Manal Al-Dowayan reinvented the #LadyDior for #DiorLadyArt 6 through references to its Saudi heritage and desert rose crystal inspiration.
Al-Dowayan explained how elegant women like to look in the Gulf through their appearance and exotic fashion. “Saudi women and indeed Gulf women in general are some of the most stylish women on the planet. They are people who have supported these global brands by buying from them and wearing them in the most interesting ways. To customize something that comes from Europe, to look absolutely beautiful within the framework of our countries,” she said.
Commenting on emerging Saudi talent, Al-Dowayan said, “I’m constantly inspired, it’s very exciting. I love looking at art and I love having interesting conversations with creatives across the country who express themselves in multiple mediums that were very lonely, like when I started as an artist. It was just me and a handful of other contemporary artists.
“I’m not talking about modern art, but about contemporary art. There are just very few people doing contemporary art and now the scene is full; this is the perfect time to be an artist,” she said.
Al-Dowayan said there is no specific style she likes to follow in her art, as her work expresses her current life and experiences as a human being and as a woman. “I am an artist who lives in this region but travels the world. Thus, my art will constantly reflect my personal journey as a human being.
Dior has now started a new dialogue with women in the Arab region – simply saying “I see you”, she said. “I’m not a fashion girl but I really enjoyed this trip.”
Al-Dowayan will participate in the “2139 exhibition” in Jeddah which will open on March 3.

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