A feminist artist and activist hailing from Saudi Arabia, Ms. Saffaa, has consistently utilized her artistic platform to advocate for the rights of women both in her home country and abroad. After moving to Australia to pursue university education, Saffaa encountered a humiliating process navigating Saudi’s male guardianship laws when acquiring her honors degree. As a woman in her early 30s at the time, she was still required to prove that she had a male guardian living with her in order to continue her studies. In 2012, spurred on by this demeaning ordeal, Saffaa conceived of #IAmMyOwnGuardian, unintentionally forging a campaign that quickly picked up steam online. The striking image she created to accompany the slogan centers on the spirited face of a woman in shemagh, a traditional headscarf worn by Saudi men, with bold splashes of colour adorning the catchphrase. Several other depictions of the image exist, some entirely in black and white and others with no slogan at all, simply focusing on the woman in shemagh. Regardless, the images speak loudly in their intent. Despite gaining a great deal of traction almost immediately with her unintentional campaign, Saffaa routinely addresses the ways in which several other activists on the ground in Saudi have been involved in furthering women’s rights for decades, and that she is simply one part of a much bigger movement. The continued amplification of her fellow feminist activist’s voices falls directly in line with her artistic practice.
Saffaa’s artistic practice is highly collaborative, often drawing upon artistic input and discourse from her fellow artists engaging in feminist work. A printmaker by trade, Saffaa is primarily known for utilizing silkscreen printing to create paste-ups for her large-scale, bold, energetic street art murals. These murals celebrate intersectional feminist activists, usually combining the faces of Saudi activists with others from around the world. She often invites her fellow artists to contribute their drawings for the murals, which she then transfers into prints in order to compose the final scene, usually documenting the whole process on her Instagram account. Incorporating bold colour palettes amongst elements of Arabic calligraphy and typography, stickers, and organic shapes, Saffaa’s murals take shape into incredibly striking and emotive pieces of work that actively highlight the many faces of feminist activism around the world. The way in which Saffaa’s murals center and celebrate intersectional feminism is undoubtedly a stunning outcome of an incredibly collaborative artistic process that involves women from around the world.
Refreshingly vocal about her creative intent and what she hopes to accomplish with her art, Saffaa consistently uses her platform to remind the world that Saudi women have agency and are not meek or oppressed – as often framed in mainstream media. She battled through the defacement of one of her murals by vandals in Melbourne and in turn, fundraised for money to recreate the mural on an even larger scale than initially done. Saffaa maintains that we must resist looking down upon and categorizing Saudi women as one dimensional, and instead acknowledge their bravery and activism in fighting for an equal existence. Art is the platform through which she undertakes the reframing of this narrative, crafting images of women that are strong, daring, and resolute rather than downtrodden or helpless. Saffaa is imagining a new reality for her fellow women, amplifying their voices and fighting for a different future through artistic conduit.
To view Saffaa's artwork, visit her two instagram accounts: @mssaffaa and @iammyownguardian.