Brushes with history: Saudi artist Hend Al-Mansour's quest to reframe the story of women’s roles in the Arab world

Brushes with history: Saudi artist Hend Al-Mansour's quest to reframe the story of women’s roles in the Arab world
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Hend Al-Mansour came to the US 21 years ago as a physician, then gave up medicine for art. Her work received the juror’s award at the Contemporary Islamic Art exhibition in Riyadh in 2012 and she received the Jerome fellowship in printmaking.
Brushes with history: Saudi artist Hend Al-Mansour's quest to reframe the story of women’s roles in the Arab world
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Updated 23 March 2018

Brushes with history: Saudi artist Hend Al-Mansour's quest to reframe the story of women’s roles in the Arab world

Brushes with history: Saudi artist Hend Al-Mansour's quest to reframe the story of women’s roles in the Arab world

WASHINGTON: The West — and the Western media especially — has tended to see Saudi Arabian women mostly as victims, passive players in a deeply patriarchal culture.
That view has been slowly changing. As the driving ban lifts this June, Saudi women are being perceived not as victims but as standing up for their rights.
Hend Al-Mansour, a leading figure in the Saudi women’s movement, is one of the most widely recognized Saudi women artists. She has been on a quest to reclaim, through her art, the story of women in the Arab world.
“In the first few years (of my shows), I found myself more or less educating people, trying to help them understand the basic thing, that women in the Arab world are not passive,” she said. “Later, the audience was more understanding. Especially now, as the Saudis are on the front pages, people understand more.
“People are very curious. Gradually, they’re getting it. It’s baby steps.”
Al-Mansour came to the US 21 years ago as a physician, then gave up medicine for art. Her work received the juror’s award at the Contemporary Islamic Art exhibition in Riyadh in 2012 and she received the Jerome fellowship in printmaking.
One of her prints was recently on the cover of a report for the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, a nod to Al-Mansour’s importance among Saudi Arabian feminists. The report lists 20 instances of activism in three different waves by Saudi women, starting from the historic demonstration against the driving ban on Nov. 6, 1990.
In an extraordinarily open conversation, Al-Mansour talked with Arab News about leaving medicine for art, the status of women in Saudi Arabia, and the changing view of Arab women in the West.

How has the view of women in the Arab world changed, especially from the West?
Especially in the West, there is a broad blanket, and it covers all women. But the Arab world is not homogeneous. In the 1970s, when I visited Beirut, it was normal for women and girls to wear miniskirts. In Saudi Arabia, men and women have been assigned well-defined, separate spaces. I studied in Egypt (attending medical school there). There women could get a wide range of education. They could be engineers, doctors.
In the late 80s and 90s, a wave of conservatism came over the Middle East. When I went back to Saudi Arabia in the 2000s, I could see black gloves, and I was surprised.
When I first came (to the US) they didn’t differentiate: A Pakistani, Iranian and Arab were the same thing. After the Arab Spring, they began to understand there are differences.
More importantly, they understand women are not passive in the Arab world. Women in the Middle East have conviction. If they put hijab on, they believe that this is part of their identity, religion and respect for their bodies. If they don’t put it on, they have conviction about that, too. They are active in whatever they’re doing. They are passionate.

I have often wondered, looking at photographs of the old Middle East, what would cause women to willingly give up some of their freedom?
I don’t understand either. When I was in Saudi Arabia, my friends were mostly unveiled. When I went back, my friends were all veiled. It’s a social phenomenon, but I don’t think religion is the cause. The religion is the result (of the same wave that results in women putting on the veil).
I put on hijab in Egypt for more than a year. It was a more of a rebellious act. I was catching the beginning of the wave.

What made you take it off?
I felt like a hypocrite. My behavior wasn’t that of a pious woman.

How do you explain the influence of religion in Saudi Arabia to Americans?
In Saudi Arabia (some believe that) the morality of the community depends on how the women dress and behave. The duty of the women is to keep society straight. Men’s job is to guard women.
It’s complex. Men are not off the hook. The whole community has roles, but they’re not natural. There is a concept in Saudi Arabia that women have half brains. That’s why I went to medical school, to prove that wrong. Now, there is a deviation from all that baggage, as Saudi Arabia becomes less isolated. Women are being recognized as whole humans.

What are some lost stories of Saudi Arabia?
When I was in Saudi Arabia, I learned the Western art. I admired Leonardo da Vinci. But there were beautiful local practices, like henna, I didn’t recognize. When my mother was a young woman, she thought henna was something backwards. … But each local, beautiful pattern has a name. We have lost it now. …I (found) eight of the patterns, and created an image of them. I made a series of prints from those. I also printed around them a folktale from the same period of time: Green in Souk, Red in Mother.
Another thing that we lost is the native architecture. When I was a child, under 10, there was a totally different landscape, of mud houses and narrow streets. The narrow streets keep the shadow in the street, and women can move in between their houses without having to veil. Even in the neighborhood, they could go from one house to another.

Does your mother like what you’re doing now?
She was really excited when I became a doctor, and mad at me when I left medicine, though she thinks I am a good artist. … She didn’t go to school when she was young, because there weren’t any schools. She studied with me.
What people should recognize is that women in Saudi Arabia are working harder than other women to make progress, to be in that place. I remember a story a woman told me of what her father did when he saw her holding a pencil – just holding a pencil. That was a great sin, and he hit her.

What led you to give up being a doctor to become an artist?
I wanted freedom of expression and freedom to be myself. It was really hard. When I realized how our conception of art in the Arab world was limited to Western art, the whole question of identity came to the fore.
Mostly what I like to do now are installations. I take rolls of paper or rolls of fabric and hang them on a skeleton. I build those spaces, borrowing the shapes of tents and mosques. My latest is called the “Pink House of God.” It’s about a Saudi woman who lives in Minnesota and includes a design made by Bedouin women. This design is intermingled with Tinkerbell. Tinkerbell was important to the woman I interviewed, because Tinkerbell is independent and could manage things.
There is a prayer rug on the floor. I want to show we can identify with Arab women. I put women into these shrines. This is more of a message to the Arab or Islamic audience.


Saudi Arabia announces 10 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 10 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 11 min 30 sec ago

Saudi Arabia announces 10 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 10 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 386,102
  • A total of 6,791 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 10 deaths from COVID-19 and 985 new infections on Thursday.
Of the new cases, 463 were recorded in Riyadh, 164 in Makkah, 140 in the the Eastern Province, 34 in Asir, 33 in Hail, 30 in Madinah, 21 in Jazan, 20 in Tabuk, 16 in Najran, 11 in the Northern Borders region, and six in Al-Jouf.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 386,102 after 661 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 6,791 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 6.6 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Saudi Arabia to date.
The health ministry earlier called on people to attend their vaccine appointments and said that those who miss their appointment will be required to book another one.


Coalition takes out 5 ballistic missiles, 4 drones in Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia

Coalition takes out 5 ballistic missiles, 4 drones in Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia
Updated 15 April 2021

Coalition takes out 5 ballistic missiles, 4 drones in Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia

Coalition takes out 5 ballistic missiles, 4 drones in Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: The Arab coalition destroyed five ballistic missiles and four explosive-laden drones launched by Houthis toward Saudi Arabia, Al-Ekhbariya reported on Thursday.
The attacks targeting Jazan are the latest in a long line of hostile actions against the Kingdom by the Iran-back Houthi militia. 
Jazan University was one of the targets as well as other civilian sites protected under international humanitarian law, coalition spokesman Turki Al-Malki said in a statement on the Saudi Press Agency, adding that the actions amount to war crimes.
The attacks originated from Sa’dah governorate in Yemen, Al-Malki added.
The coalition said the attack is a continuation of the Houthis’ systematic and intentional hostile attempts to target civilians. 
The Houthis, who took over the capital of Yemen, Sanaa, in 2014, have been condemned for their actions against the Kingdom. 
The Saudi government has said the Houthi attacks are not only against the  Kingdom and its economic facilities, but rather the center of the global economy, the security of its exports and its oil supplies, while also affecting maritime navigation.

Saudi Arabia has consistently backed efforts to resolved the war in Yemen peacefully.
Last week, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman held talks with Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, and reiterated that the Kingdom supports “all efforts to end the conflict, implement a cease-fire, alleviate the humanitarian crisis, and reach a political resolution that guarantees peace and prosperity for the brotherly people of Yemen.”
In March, Saudi Arabia announce a peace initiative to help end a war that has ravaged Yemen for the last six years. The initiative, which has received wide support, includes a cease-fire supervised by the UN, the reopening of Sanaa airport, and new talks to reach a political resolution to the conflict. Restrictions on the Red Sea port of Hodeidah would also be eased, allowing access for ships and cargo.
The UN’s chief, Antonio Guterres, backed the deal and urged all sides to take this opportunity to pursue peace and work with his special envoy, Martin Griffiths, on ways to proceed “in good faith and without preconditions.”


Yemen’s information minister, Moammar Al-Eryani, said members of the international community with open channels to the Houthis must use their leverage to encourage it to sever ties with Iran and commit to the Saudi-led peace initiative.
“These countries must put pressure on the Houthis to stop their daily crimes and violations against civilians in their areas of control, which are considered war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Al-Eryani told Arab News in an interview last week.
A Yemeni news agency reported last month that the Houthis had “provisionally” accepted the Saudi initiative to end the war in Yemen, but were demanding unchecked flights from Sanaa airport to unlimited destinations before giving the peace plan their final approval.
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Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief opens prosthetic limbs clinic in Aden

Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief opens prosthetic limbs clinic in Aden
Updated 15 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief opens prosthetic limbs clinic in Aden

Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief opens prosthetic limbs clinic in Aden
  • In addition to providing artificial limbs, the facility will also offer maintenance of prosthetics, rehabilitation services and physiotherapy

LONDON: The Saudi-based King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) has officially opened an artificial limbs clinic in the Yemeni city of Aden, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

Qasim Buhaibeh, the Yemeni minister of public health and population, thanked KSrelief for its work to help the Yemeni people. He also praised the achievement of establishing the prosthetic limb facility, which he said “will contribute to providing medical services and alleviating the suffering of those who are injured and the victims of mines.”

Saleh Al-Dibani, the director of KSrelief in Aden, said the organization has provided the prosthetic limb center with the resources it needs to help 1,434 beneficiaries, including 300 new prosthetic limbs.

A KSrelief worker is seen with young patients at the new prosthetic limb center in Aden. (SPA)

He added that KSrelief is also providing resources for maintenance of prosthetics, rehabilitation services, physiotherapy, and to hire medical staff in coordination with the Yemeni Ministry of Health.

“The project of equipping and preparing artificial limbs is one of the most important projects funded by KSrelief in the governorates of Aden, Taiz, Seiyun and Marib, with the aim of supporting the Yemeni health sector,” said Al-Dibani.

The center is part of the framework of humanitarian and relief efforts being provided by Saudi Arabia, through KSrelief, to the Yemeni people.


Saudi scientific organization launches first observatory to monitor and anticipate future development in Kingdom

Saudi scientific organization launches first observatory to monitor and anticipate future development in Kingdom
Updated 15 April 2021

Saudi scientific organization launches first observatory to monitor and anticipate future development in Kingdom

Saudi scientific organization launches first observatory to monitor and anticipate future development in Kingdom

RIYADH: The Asbar Center for Studies, Research and Communications announced the launch of the Asbar Observatory on Development, the first of its kind in monitoring and anticipating future development in the Kingdom.
Established in 1994, the Asbar Center is a scientific organization dedicated to conducting studies and research on development and policies.
Dr. Fahad Al-Orabi Al-Harthi, president of the Asbar Center, said the new observatory is one of the center’s initiatives. 
“The idea of launching the observatory comes within the framework of the center’s efforts to keep pace with developments witnessed in various fields in the Kingdom, in order to achieve its ambitious Vision 2030,” he said.
Through the observatory, Al-Harthi noted, the Asbar Center seeks to build a national system that contributes, in cooperation with the responsible authorities, to monitoring development needs and providing information to authorities.
Al-Harthi also said the observatory will assist decision-makers in shaping life in Saudi Arabia and anticipating its future through foresight tools. In preparation for a pioneering developmental journey that supports changes, the observatory will also anticipate future opportunities and challenges by analyzing their effects and developing innovative solutions to them.
“The mechanism of the Asbar Observatory project relies on the work of local and international development indicators,” Al-Harthi said.
“The observatory will focus on monitoring development and issuing reports to the competent authorities on progress, social innovation, sustainable development and social responsibility. It will also issue future forward-looking studies.”
Al-Harthi said he hopes the Asbar Observatory will enhance the Kingdom’s presence in various global fields while maintaining its distinguished international position.


Prince Mishaal bin Majed appointed adviser to the king

Prince Mishaal bin Majed appointed adviser to the king
Updated 15 April 2021

Prince Mishaal bin Majed appointed adviser to the king

Prince Mishaal bin Majed appointed adviser to the king

RIYADH: King Salman on Thursday appointed Prince Mishaal bin Majed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as adviser to the king, with the rank of minister, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
Prince Mishaal has been governor of Jeddah since 1997 and a member of the Allegiance Council since 2007. 

He is president of the governing council of the assembly and president of the Social Development Forum and chairman of the board of the Society of Majid bin Abdul Aziz for Development and Social Services.