Illustrator and writer Hana Shafi talks being weird and influential on the Internet

Hana Shafi, also known as Frizz Kid, lives in Toronto and works as an illustrator and writer. From a rude flower themed drawing series to politically influential art, you may have already seen many of Hana’s pieces reposted on your Instagram feed.

With international impact and a debut book on shelves, Hana’s audience spans further than the nearly 31,000 followers already tuning in.

Read our full interview with Hana below for a look into Frizz Kid’s creative process, tips on how to navigate social media as an artist and what it’s like to captivate curious audiences from coast to coast.

Blossom. Artwork and words by: Hana Shafi.
  1. From where does your desire to create stem?

It’s hard to say. I feel that I’ve always been creative since I was a child. The desire to create just feels instinctual at this point.

  1. You craft powerful words and create thought-provoking illustrations, many of which live on Instagram. Why this social platform?

Instagram is a fairly accessible platform. It’s free and it’s used by so many people, which means lots of people will get a chance to see this art. Even if they can never go to a show in person, they’ll still get a chance to see the work!

  1. One June 29, you published an illustration on your Instagram account using #notmypremierin response to the recent election in Ontario that has left us with Doug Ford as our provincial leader. Why is it so important for us to use social media and citizen journalism, so to speak, to make change, to spark conversation and to highlight important issues that impact diverse communities? 

Social media is a great tool for activism; it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show up for rallies, protests, sign petitions, donate to grassroots charity – those are all crucial. But social media is a great way to spread the message, to get people thinking about key issues and to galvanize them for a cause. Especially when it comes to highly political content, the news can feel intimidating and overwhelming to some, whereas political art feels a lot easier for folks to get into.

  1. What type of response did you receive after you posted the aforementioned Doug Ford illustration? How do you manage and cope with the commentary that could follow?

Surprisingly, all the responses I got were positive. I’ve received racist, sexist, etc., hate mail before and I was expecting it this time around too. But I don’t think the work reached that audience, and for that I was thankful. I was prepared for the influx of angry messages, but I really didn’t want it to happen. I deal with enough crap, so it’s nice to have a break.

  1. During Pride, you posted a graphic that reads, “May you find love and healing in your chosen family.” This piece appeared on my personal Instagram feed so many times throughout the month of June, with friends and followers sharing and re-posting. How does it feel to know that communities across the city you call home were acknowledging your work and encouraging others to consume it? 

It’s honestly surreal. Seeing my work travel so far, it’s like an extension of me reaching so many people, different cities and countries. To me it just shows the power of artwork, how far it can spread and how it can inspire and comfort folks. It means a lot to me that people want to share my work.

  1. Based on your experiences thus far, what are three lessons you might recommend we teach young people about social media and media literacy? 

a. Look for sources. If you see work you like and you don’t see a source, try to find one. Whether it’s reverse image search on Google or asking followers to help you find the source. It’s important to credit people and important to know where the content you consume is coming from.

b. Be prepared for trolls. I think it’s terrible that bigoted comments are this unfortunate inevitability of social media. It doesn’t have to be this way. But right now, it is. And I encourage young folks to know that sometimes you may be the target of a hurtful comment. When I first started posting a lot of writing and art on social media, I was shocked when I got sent some pretty terrible messages. Young folks need to know that social media can be really fun, but it can be scary. They need to be prepared and remember that those mean words are not a reflection on them.

c. Find a safe space. Some parts of social media can feel really safe. Find an online group, forum and/or blog that helps you feel safe, so you don’t constantly have to be exposed to bigoted trolls. So, if a troll does target you, you have an online support system to fall back on.

  1. Often, you will share daily affirmations on your social media profiles, perhaps setting intentions for the day or making a mindful goal. How long have you been setting affirmations and why is this a step in your routine? 

I started the affirmation series in March 2016, and now I have over 150. Affirmations are helpful little reminders. They can help bring you back down to earth when all struggles in your life are swarming around you, making you feel like everything is impossible. It’s as therapeutic to me to make them as it is for others to see them.

Photo by: Jessica Laforet.
  1. What do you hope your work as an artist does to improve the current state of North American politics (and perhaps, generally speaking, conversations around the dinner table)?

Unfortunately, the current state of North American politics is apathy – one where empathy has not become a daily practice for a lot of people and where financial greed has become more important than basic rights and humanity. Hopeful political art can be radical, and it can encourage people to want a better, kinder, more equitable world and to fight for that change. I hope that my art will give people the hope and courage they need to resist fascism and bigotry. These are tiresome fights, and we all need kind words, self-care and compassion to get us through it.

  1. We have so much work to do to improve equity and equality across the globe. Despite the level of tasks ahead of us. what have you found to be the most inspiring and uplifting aspect of your journey as an artist and the impact you’ve had in Canada and around the world? 

I think just the number of messages I get from folks who have been positively impacted by my work has been the most uplifting asset of my journey. I read those messages and am able to see that solid, tangible proof that I’m doing something that makes a difference. Knowing that it’s helped people deal with some of the darkest, scariest moments of their life means a lot to me.

  1. On September 10, you released a book of poetry and illustrations. It’s called It Begins With The Body and highlights the ups and downs of coming into your own. Why was this a topic that was so important for you to explore? 

I wanted to create something that felt real; that was raw and honest, but also casual and funny. Something that pushed people to explore vulnerable, emotionally-intensive topics, but that also made people laugh. Because that’s the truth about my journey of coming into my own. There were times when it was profound and other times when it was just one big hilarious shit show. And I think it’s important for women, especially women of colour, to share these honest, personal narratives with others. We read a lot of that kind of work from white men, characterizing it as edgy and brave. When women do the same work, it’s seen as self-indulgent and over emotional. I want to challenge that narrative.

  1. Can you tell us about the title of your debut book? What does it mean to you?

For the most part, it’s quite literal. Everything starts with the body. For all the things we’ve experienced and felt, we’re just awkward fleshy things. That’s where are journey begins and ends.

  1. For those of us who have always wanted to write and publish a book, but aren’t there yet, what are the three best parts about the process, based on what you know, so far? 

Creating new content is fun and frustrating at the same time. Writer’s/artist’s block is inevitable, but those little moments of inspiration are rejuvenating.

Getting your work edited is actually a really fun process. It encourages you to reflect on your own work and to also push yourself out of your creative comfort zone.

And the other best part is: Sharing that work with friends and getting their reactions.

  1. When did the idea for this book spark? How have the themes shifted since you first put pen to paper?

I think it started about four or five years ago, but truthfully, creating a book of poetry has been my goal since the fifth grade. I felt a lot of closure in writing the book. I think when I started, I had so much anger and sadness. These aren’t necessarily bad emotions, but in the process of writing it, I felt compelled to explore themes other than rage and despair. I had to ask myself was happiness looked like or what letting go looked like.

  1. What’s a lesson you’ve now acquired as a result of finishing It Begins With The Body that you wish you knew six months ago?

Take risks and write, write, write, every day!!!

  1. What about the book are you most excited to share with readers and other audiences?

There are some really silly parts in the book and I’m excited to get smiles and laughter from readers. Most of it is pretty emotional, and from what some friends have said so far, there are definitely going to be some tears when reading it. But, there are some quirky parts I can’t wait to share.

Fight Fascism. Artwork and words by: Hana Shafi.

Before you click away, think about purchasing a copy of It Begins With The Body. As Hana has already suggested in this A Quarter Young interview, It Begins With The Body highlights what it’s like to feel like an outsider through verses both humourous and raw.

Don’t miss what Hana’s got going on this fall, Frizz Kid’s favourite time of year. Follow along via Instagram and Facebook for more creations, perspectives and stories.

The feature photo is by Hamzah Amin

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