A mural in Melbourne that formed part of the #IAmMyOwnGuardian campaign, launched by Saudi-Australian artist Ms. Saffaa, was found vandalised yesterday. A product of the collaboration of several artists, the mural took months to complete and probably minutes to deface.
Ms. Saffaa’s work often depicts Saudi women in the traditional headdress of men in Saudi Arabia, the shmagh. In English or Arabic, the words, “I am my own guardian”, are overlaid on the images. Her work is iconic of the campaign to end male guardianship, and the mural was a triumph not only of the campaign, but also of solidarity among feminists, activists, and artists from different parts of the world. Such a public display of art and activism helped give me the courage to add my voice to the movement to end male guardianship.
Ms. Safaa herself put into words one of the many reasons the attack on the mural was so heartbreaking. In wondering what to tell the Saudi women represented in the work, she asked, “You have to fight the misogynist men back home and the Islamophobic racist bigots in this country?”
Her question resonated with me; it articulated a reality that I often find too frustrating to put into words. As a woman who wants equal rights, I am unwelcome in Saudi Arabia. As a person of Muslim heritage,* I am unwelcome in the “West”. I face discrimination on both fronts because of two accidents of my birth: a vagina and a Saudi father.
To see the defaced mural in Melbourne evoked familiar feelings in response to discrimination at home and abroad. The vandals had literally covered the women’s faces in black paint and painted over their words – a different kind of attempt to veil and silence Saudi women.
But to see the defaced mural in Melbourne, created by a group of inspiring feminists, activists, and artists, has also strengthened my resolve as a feminist, an activist, and in my own way, an artist. Even damaged, Ms. Saffaa’s work will continue to inspire the fight against discrimination against women – by misogynists and Islamophobes alike.
See more of Ms. Saffaa’s work here.
*I use this somewhat wordy phrase in lieu of,”As a Muslim”, because I want to highlight Islam as something I inherited, rather than chose. Even though there are a variety of levels of religiosity observed among those born Muslim, from atheism to ISIS, we are all assumed to fall into the latter category.