JEDDAH/RIYADH: An image by French artist Malika Favre, marking the day that women were allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia for the first time, has been formally recognised with a slew of awards after it became something of a cultural sensation.
The picture, commissioned to cover the special “Start Your Engines” edition of Arab News in June last year, took off as a popular symbol of that historic moment. It was downloaded as mobile wallpapers, replicated on hats, painted on a wall mural in Riyadh and, to celebrate its one-year anniversary, Arab News is giving away bumper stickers with it in today’s print edition.
It wasn’t just the masses that embraced the image. It went on to become the success story of the newspaper awards season, clinching seven design gongs, including the Society for News Design’s Award of Excellence for cover story illustration.
“For Arab News to be recognized on a global scale with so many awards is a great honor,” said Simon Khalil, global creative director at Arab News. “This highlights just how important this moment in history was for women across the Kingdom. We hope Malika’s work and our cover will empower women across the whole region.”
Favre, whose mother is Algerian, is an illustrator for The New Yorker, New York Times, Vanity Fair and Penguin Books. She’s known for her minimal style, with designs that are easily linked back to her through her use of vibrant colors and positive/negative spacing.
“As a champion of women for years through her unique creative style, Malika Favre was the obvious choice for our cover, and her illustration brilliantly captures the significance of this moment on the day Saudi Arabia changed forever,” said Khalil.
Favre’s illustration is of a Saudi woman in her headscarf, with her hands on a steering wheel reflected in her sunglasses (in the animated online version, her hands and the wheel move). “A story within a story,” the artist described it.
The artwork has resonated with a lot of people, to the extent that even those who were not Arab News readers at the time shared it and downloaded it in droves. Favre thinks that’s because it is about “empowering women and looking forward to the changes to come.”
Favre is a firm believer in celebrating even the smallest milestones in life. “The cover holds a very positive message, and I think this is what resonated with people out there, and especially the women of Saudi Arabia,” she said from her base in London.
Favre was not expecting Saudi Arabia’s reaction to the cover. “It is always an amazing feeling when an illustration starts having a life of its own.”
One Saudi female artist was especially moved by the cover. For a Panorama Mall contest in which she participated, Noha Al-Johar recreated Favre’s design as mural on the wall of the mall’s parking lot.
Al-Johar told Arab News that she went into the competition blindly, but then saw Favre’s illustration and knew what she had to do. For three days she replicated the design faithfully, right down to the street details in the oversized sunglasses.
When Favre came across a photo of the homage painted by Al-Johar, she shared it on her social media accounts. Al-Johar was very humbled by the attention. “I want to thank her,” she said. “She’s the definition of a visionary.”
Favre expressed delight at how her illustration has been received. “As an artist, getting awarded for a piece is very fulfilling,” she said.
“This cover was very important for me on a personal level as a woman, and I was really happy to see the image being shared, emulated and celebrated by other artists.”