From the outside, Sara Filali looks like a normal college student – but once she breaks out her pad and pencil, everything changes.
At 20 years old, Filali is already a self-taught artist and successful businesswoman. Her self-owned business, Filali Studios, gives her a platform to sell her art in various forms such as prints, stickers and phone cases. She also accepts requests for commissioned art, which has included being a live painter at a friend’s wedding.
Filali makes art because she enjoys it. Selling it is only a perk, she says.
“I like doing it,” says Filali. “This is something that me, a broke college kid, can do in my spare time. Which combines what I really like doing and also what I really need – which is money.”
At the beginning of her business journey, Filali was afraid.
“I had to put a value on the art that I was originally just making for myself,” said Filali. “I was afraid that the person I was offering my price to would reject it, and therefore reject the value that I was putting in my own art.”
Hailing from Morocco, Filali feels a deep connection to her ethnicity, which she shows in her art. Various symbols that are prevalent throughout Morocco’s history show up in her pieces. Although she didn’t grow up there, her drawings take on the aspects of a culture she was raised in, inspired by the stories told to her by her parents and grandmother.
“Growing up, my culture has always been a big part of my identity – it’s a part of who I am, my language, my roots.”
Some of her pieces are illustrations of stories she grew up hearing. Others embody the strong features of Moroccan women.
“I value my roots being seen – especially living in the USA, where Moroccan culture is not very prominent,” said Filali. “You don’t see a lot of art that reflects the other side without using orientalism.”
Beyond showcasing her culture, Filali is very passionate about representation in her works. A lot of her pieces depict women like herself who wear a hijab, which is a religious headscarf. She says this is not only to represent hijabis in her art, but also because she wants to explore different mediums with hijabis as the subject.
“I thought, ‘What if I were to mix pop art with hijab?’ Or, ‘What if I were to mix expressionism with hijab, or collage art?’” said Filali. “The hijabi woman is not a huge subject of art or analysis, it’s always something that’s feared or othered and not very celebrated within the world of art.”
In an effort to change that, Filali has created art featuring hijabis. She has helped solidify her place in cultural art by portraying underrepresented women.
“It’s not so much doing art that I think other people would find cool, it’s more so me, as the individual, what kind of art do I want to see?” Filali says.