When I first encountered this installation entitled Suspended Together by Saudi Arabian artist Manal Al Dowayan, I took it simply at face value and assumed I was looking at a collection of 200 fiberglass doves imprinted with what looked like postcards. I got it: birds moving from one place to another affixed with notes and postage. It was pretty. But reading further I realized the piece was not nearly as straightforward or innocuous. I had been duped, and that was the artist’s intention. Though I don’t usually do this I’m going to quote Manal’s statement about the piece in its entirety:
“Suspended Together” is an installation that gives the impression of movement and freedom. However, a closer look at the 200 doves allows the viewer to realize that the doves are actually frozen and suspended with no hope of flight. An even closer look shows that each dove carries on its body a permission document that allows a Saudi woman to travel. Notwithstanding their circumstances, all Saudi women are required to have this document, issued by their appointed male guardian.
The artist reached out to a large group of leading women from Saudi Arabia to donate their permission documents for inclusion in this artwork. “Suspended Together” carries the documents of award-winning scientists, educators, journalists, engineers, artists and leaders with groundbreaking achievements that gave back to their society. The youngest contributor is six months old and the oldest is 60 years old. In the artist’s words, “regardless of age and achievement, when it comes to travel, all these women are treated like a flock of suspended doves.”
A truly chilling situation, yet executed wonderfully by the artist. Provoking yet strangely sentimental. Suspended Together was included in the Future of a Promise exhibition at the 54th Venice Biennale last year.