We sat down with Sara Alfageeh, head illustrator, and co-director of the ‘BOY/BYE’ Kickstarter campaign, an amazing fashion x activism project aimed at showcasing women of color through pins, prints, stickers, and patches.
However, the project doesn’t only focus on this but also aims to fund future projects and grow into a tangible community of people from different backgrounds, coming together to share their art.
The Tempest: What inspired you to start the ‘BOY/BYE’ campaign and why the name?
Sara Alfageeh: The true inspiration was the women we know; our friends, family, community leaders, fellow creators, and artists – they are all unapologetic, assertive, and bold in who they are. There is no way I could pretend this was all from me, the inspiration for it was everywhere. The “Somewhere In America #MIPSTERZ” video is an excellent example of this. One of my amazing friends and fellow illustrator, Nancy Marcel, created the “Hijabitches” sticker series, which featured hijabi women as we know them to be – not giving in to the social pressures around them, being defiant and self-assured. I was very lucky to help with the project, and it motivated me to do for other girls what her art did for me.
Then after seeing Sana from the Norwegian show Skam rock a BOY/BYE sweater, and thinking back to Beyonce’s no holds barred vibe on “Sorry,” I got to sketching! BOY/BYE is just a great way of conveying the self-assured sentiment we were going for, while also being the fun and lighthearted feeling we wanted to convey through the art.
How does ‘BOY/BYE’ reflect your values as an artist?
That’s a good question. It took me a long while to embrace my identity in my art. I had to unpack a lot of my own internalized biases of what I understood to be “good art”. Holding back the stories I wanted to share helped no one, especially when positive representation for women of color was so scarce. Of course, a very real pressure comes with that understanding. What I have come to learn, however, is that the most impact you can have in your work is to be as genuine as possible.
If you go in only with the intention of completing a diversity checklist and pat yourself on the back, it’s very transparent and audiences deserve better. A good story will speak for itself. I just want to make rad stuff, and can only hope that it encourages someone out there to make rad stuff too.
What is your take on current representations of women in the media?
That’s a whole topic on its own. There has been some progress, but not nearly enough, particularly for women of color. Experiences of women are flattened to being represented by the same tropes over and over again, their narratives largely dictated by and for men. This is mainly due to the fact that getting access to the right spaces and platforms are also restricted. We need to critique what we’ve been told about all social constructions if we want to progress into a more holistic and comprehensive understanding of each other.
We need more critical thinking, introspection, and understanding of intersectionality – all of which is lacking in the media but something that is sought after by many in my generation. Sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself. Shout-out to MIPSTERZ and The Tempest for trying to create that space and push back on un-nuanced media representations. Social media has changed the game, especially when we work together.
‘BOY/BYE’ focuses on community-building and creating space for underrepresented women. Why do you believe this is important?
BOY/BYE is technically a fundraising campaign for the creation of such spaces via #MIPSTERZ. MIPSTERZ has been putting on rad events that are part TED Talk, part house party, part gallery that brings people of all backgrounds together. Venues are packed with lines down the block every time, so we know the need for these spaces firsthand. The thank-yous that come with donating represent the movement you are championing, one of individual expression and celebration of people putting themselves out there in the world.
Having to defend why women, especially underrepresented women, deserve to be heard as much as a man or a white woman is what is most disconcerting. It is self-evident that all people want a witness to their stories, and they should have the spaces to express themselves and allow their creative pursuits to develop. The distance between creator and audience has closed, you can’t underestimate the real power of crowdfunding, social media, and collaboration. We can change the convention – and keep changing it as new voices come with it.
What are your plans/vision for future fashion x activism crossovers?
We are putting the work out there and letting people define it the way they need it to be. We look forward to continuing the project with more Kickstarters, where if there is no audience for the project it simply won’t happen. The goals and the spirit of it will definitely remain the same, while we pursue new and more ambitious projects we have had lined up for some time. Our larger plan is to hold more community events, with greater frequency and in creative, thought-provoking ways.
We are working hard to create room to celebrate those passions and encourage folks to make an impact in their own circles. There will be more projects coming from me, but you’ll have to tune into MIPSTERZ and me to find out more as it happens!
You can follow Sara Alfageeh on twitter @TheFoofinator and MIPSTERZ co-director at @AbbasRattani, and check out more of Sara’s art at behance.net/artbyalfa. This interview was edited for length and clarity.