For a few decades now, Saudi Arabia has undergone enormous changes under the impetus of successive development plans. These advances have played a major role in social change and the empowerment of women. And it is Saudi art that today offers us a source of reflection on the status of women through the years.
111 artworks produced by Saudi artists from 1969 to 2019
Labna Al-Badna, a Saudi researcher and art enthusiast from the region, has an idea in mind: to explore the social, political and economic context through which Saudi women have been represented in art from the 1960s onwards. It is to 111 artworks produced by Saudi artists from 1969 to 2019 that the researcher is determined to see her project through.
Laban begins with Safeya bint Zager’s major work, The Hijazia Mona Lisa, or Al-Zaboon, as it was originally called. “The importance of this work comes from the fact that it was created by a woman expressing herself as a woman” she says.
What is important to know is that this painting was made at a time when women’s education had only recently been introduced, when the government launched its first development plan in 1970, whose objective was to include women in the public education and health systems. “As a result, women, for the first time, were exposed to a much broader horizon that made them aware of their potential.”
Art, proof of the growing place of women in society
The modernization of the country, driven by development plans, has been reflected in the way women have been represented in art over the years.
Although women in traditional dress and settings have always been present in artworks, the researcher says their interpretations were not the same. “Women in traditional dress were a central theme in artworks from the 1960s to 2000s. However, the image of women differed according to the ongoing social evolution, strongly influenced by regional and local events.”
If until 2000, the woman painted by artists did not represent reality due to her absence on the media and cultural scene, the first decade of the 21st century has allowed Saudi women to express themselves in a bold and more authentic way.
The artist Taghreed Al-Bugshi really expresses this by depicting a woman driving a motorcycle with the letters of the word “drive” in Arabic on the plate, while in another painting she has a woman sitting on the roof of a car.
A cultural change advocated by female artists and their government
For Labna Al-Badna, women artists have succeeded in advocating cultural and social change in line with the global standards of the 21st century, especially through their sense of solidarity.
Beyond her reflection, however, the researcher insisted that government plans were the main driver of social change, and government support in recent years has played a key role in the flourishing of the Kingdom’s art scene. The Ministry of Culture’s many initiatives to support the country’s cultural scene, including the arts, have been essential in growing social interest and driving the growth in the number of Saudi artists in different types of art since 2019.