Where does a memory go after it has left the lips of the living? Does it disappear into the atmosphere like a thin rain? Is it assigned a serial number then stored by a divine keeper of time in a secret safe deposit box, to be retrieved in the future by someone yet to be born?
Manal Al Dowayan creates conceptual art out of Mnemophobia: the fear of forgetting and of ultimately being forgotten. At the root of her practice lies a ritual of untangling and classifying memories in order to protect the past. A video installation, I Had No Wings (2015) captured the backseat blur between past and present tenses as the artist was driven through the streets of Saudi Arabia. If I Forget You, Don’t Forget Me (2012) created connections through the oral histories and artifacts of the generation of oil men and women who came together at Saudi Arabia’s oil boom.
While previous works have been grounded in Al Dowayan’s native Saudi Arabia, her current solo show at Cuadro Gallery, “And I, Will I Forget” is a collection of silkscreened and mixed media images that makes the artist’s personal family history into universally relatable moments while examining the blurry distinction between fact and fiction when stories are retold over time.
When she embarked on a 2015 residency at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation on Captiva Island (Florida, USA) Al Dowayan brought along little else but a silver biscuit tin that her late father had given to her when she was 12. Inside were nearly 1,000 unviewed slides from shots he had had captured between 1962 and 1973—the period in which he had left home, studied in the US, gotten married, honeymooned, and ultimately became a parent. By the time Al Dowayan became an artist, her father had already descended into Alzheimer’s, taking the significance of these captured moments along with him. None of the people in the slides are still alive and the chronological sequence and fact-based timeline behind the images are indecipherable.