Safwat Saleem: Making Art for Dark Times

Photo by Bret Hartman

Photo by Bret Hartman

Do not be afraid.

Safwat Saleem applies this simple maxim to art and life. “I think of that sentence quite often, especially when I’m stuck or unsure of myself while working on a project,” the graphic designer and self-described “reluctant artist” says. “Reminding myself not to be afraid helps me make progress.”

That philosophy pushed him to start working on independent art projects when his day job — doing graphic design for clients — started to feel like a chore. And it motivated him to launch his first Kickstarter project in 2010, for an art exhibition exposing xenophobic messages in political campaigns via faux propaganda posters.

“It’s an indescribable feeling when someone you don’t know [supports] your project simply because they like what you are doing,” he says.

Photo by Audrey Iffert

Photo by Audrey Iffert

Recently, after one too many stress-induced pizza binges prompted by reading the news, Saleem decided to create something uplifting. “Art for Dark Times” is a set of glow-in-the-dark posters, enamel pins, and stickers that “serve as daily reminders that we’re not alone in our frustration or fear or anger, that we can’t give up, and that we need to focus on the bigger picture.”

Love , from the "Art for Dark Times" series

Love, from the "Art for Dark Times" series

Saleem’s brand of plain-spoken artistic satire may seem effortless, but he’s just as prone to creative block as anyone.

“I usually have no idea what I’m doing, [especially] when working on something experimental or new,” he says. “I constantly doubt myself. But what really excites me is the opportunity to learn something new along the way.”

He offers another concise creative principle that helps him cut through self-doubt: “Begin anywhere.

The John Cage quote “seems so simple, but it’s the only thing that helps me work through the blocks,” Saleem says. “It doesn’t matter what part of a project you work on first — the important thing is to start.