Svava was born in 1909 in Ísafjörður in the West Fjords, where she lived until her mother died in 1937. She moved to Reykjavík to live with her sister Amalía and her husband, dentist Hallur Hallsson, and work in their home where she helped with child-care. In 1972 she was allocated an apartment by the Organisation of People with Disabilities, where she made a comfort- able life for herself. Svava soon started attending a workshop for senior citi- zens, where her instructors noticed her unusual approach to materials and methods. Initially she learned watercolour technique from artist Valgerður Briem, and then Helga Pálína Brynjólfsdóttir took over, sawing out wooden models from her drawings of Icelandic churches and farmhouses, and later castles and drawbridges. Under the guidance of Sigríður Ágústsdóttir, Svava made expressive pottery works with enthusiasm and power – for instance women with children on their heads, women in national costume, and coffee-services, jugs and bowls which were enchanting in their child- like sincerity and style.
The founders of the Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum saw Svava’s work by chance, bought all that they could, and organised exhibitions of her works at the Living Art Museum in 1991 and 1997. Artists were particularly impressed by Svava’s work. In due course the Museum received from Svava’s friend Sigríður Ágústsdóttir a large number of pieces she had given her. The bulk of Svava’s oeuvre is in the keeping of the Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum.