If many people think that the “Abaya” hinders Muslim women’s development and dreams, they should have a broader vision and a closer look at Muslim women in general, and at Saudi women in specific. Safeya Binzagr, a Saudi female artist, is a live proof of the fallacy of such a belief. When I visited Mrs. Safeya’s Museum for the first time, I felt the aroma of the genuine Saudi culture, the beauty of Mrs. Safiya’s art, the charm of her modest personality, and the prolonged struggle and hard work of her rich experience. Mrs. Safeya is not just an artist; she is a historian and a true Saudi patriot.
Mrs. Safeya’s art is an honest depiction of the simple Saudi life before the economical boom. It is a depiction made by a woman who loves her country and who cares about capturing the smallest details of the daily life of Saudis in the early fifties and sixties. Mrs. Safeya’s love for her country has gone beyond painting. Mrs. Safeya has made a collection of the jewelry and gowns that were used by Saudis, especially by women. The collection and the effort she has done in gathering the costumes are indescribable and can only be felt by those who see the collection, and those who truly love the original, simple Saudi culture.
Mrs. Safeya has chosen a life of devotion and determination. Her goal is to preserve the Saudi culture and traditions, and she thought that her art wasn’t quite enough to fulfill her grand objective, so she started writing books that tell the story of the mysterious land. According to Mrs. Safeya, “It wasn’t an easy task, for I am not a writer”, but her love and strong will have made the difficult mission possible. Now, many researchers refer to Mrs. Safeya’s books as they can find in them what they cannot find in other books about Saudi Arabia .
The essence of the beauty and charm of Mrs. Safeya’s art lies within her personality, not just in her works. Mrs. Safeya’s presence enchants your heart by her modesty and simplicity. While speaking about her work, she tries to avoid talking about it as a surpassing achievement. A great pioneer she is, but a pompous arrogant person she is not. Unlike many famous Saudi women, Mrs. Safeya works more than she talks. She is not the kind of a woman who fights, objects, complains, or seeks public attention; her work speaks volumes, and that is enough for her. She works in reverence, beauty, and silence. Once she was asked by a German visitor, “How can you survive with the Abaya and without driving?” She simply and humbly replied, “Not only that I survived, I have also established this museum with the Abaya and without driving….I never cared to learn how to drive although I lived for many years between Egypt and Britain”.
How many Saudi women are like Mrs. Safeya Binzagr? How many have done what she has accomplished? How many of those who complain day and night about the Abaya and the Saudi system have done half of what she has attained? I believe all of us need to learn a lot from Mrs. Safeya. Greatness is achieved by hard work, not by scattered useless words. I can say I am proud to be a Saudi woman because of a woman like Mrs. Safeya. If you fight and complain all the time, you might get part of what you want, and you might get the public’s attention for a while, but if you set your goals and struggle to achieve them, you will definitely impose your presence. Only at that point you can say, “This is my work, and here I am”. You only exist by the number of your achievements; not by the number of your battles. You can only feel the beauty of life by the things you have given, not by the number of voices you have muted, and the number of votes you have collected.
According to many non-Saudis who have visited Darat Safiya Binzagr, visiting the museum is one of the most eye-opening experiences to them. Yet it is not only a rich experience for Westerners; it has been so for me and for many Saudis who have seen the great artistic work of Safiya Binzagr.
Thanks to Mrs. Safeya who has taught me many valuable lessons about life and art. My warmest regards and greatest respect to a woman, who has made me proud of being a woman and a Saudi.
Here are some pictures that I have taken of Darat Safiya and pics of some of my students whom I took on an educational trip:
1. Darat Safiya Binzagr from the outside and the entrance hall (Unfortunately, taking photos of the paintings is not allowed)…you can still see some of Mrs. Safiya’s work on the website. http://www.daratsb.com/
2. A room from the past:
This is my favorite section of the museum. It is a room furnished exactly as rooms used to be in the fifties and sixties.
3. The Gallery Workshop:
Here are some pics of Mrs. Safiya’s working place, the workshop gallery, the children’s drawing room, and the entrance hall room of the gallery area.