Feminist art in a digital age

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Feminist art in a digital age

Hana Shafi, also known as Frizz Kid, is an artist, a poet, a freelance writer, and a feminist. She is also the author of It Begins With The Body (Book*Hug Press, 2018), a book of poetry and illustrations. Scott Neigh interviews her about her work and her politics.

As anyone who has been paying attention lately can attest, the internet has not lived up to the breathless hype that it received in its early years as an inevitable incubator of democracy and freedom. However, while the organized trollery and far-right infrastructure building of a subset of angry white men may have grabbed the biggest portion of mainstream attention, there is also a new generation of creators making very different kinds of use of the online tools they've grown up with. Young artists, writers, poets, videographers, musicians, and photographers – many of them marginalized along one or many axes – have been finding ways to use these tools to refuse silence, to speak truths, to heal harms, and to mobilize for change.

Hana Shafi started writing poetry as a kid. A little later, she took up drawing. When she went to university, it was in a journalism program at Ryerson in Toronto. Along the way, she took up feminist politics – just, she says, as "an aspect of survival" while navigating the world as a young woman of colour.

After she graduated in 2015, she decided to make a go of it as a freelancer. She placed pieces in venues that you would probably recognize, and she even managed to snag a National Magazine Award nomination. But freelancing is hard, thankless, and underpaid work. At a certain point, she realized that what was really making her happiest was her art, so she began to put more of her energies in that direction under the handle "Frizz Kid."

To a significant extent, it was social media that made this transition possible. It has given her a way to reach people, to build an audience, and to cultivate other online and offline opportunities.

The work that she is most widely known for, and that has become a weekly online series for her, focuses on affirmations – not the empty positivity of greeting cards and posh lifestyle magazines, but something more substantial that speaks to a much wider range of lives and struggles. She pairs relatively simple illustrations with a range of uplifting and affirming messages related to surving sexual violence, to addiction, to body positivity, to mental health struggles, and to much more. The goal is not to convey some sort of look-on-the-bright-side denial of oppression, but to offer people moments of recognition, understanding, and compassion as they continue to fight.

Much of her illustration beyond the affirmation series is in a more aesthetically challenging style – a sort of hyperdetailed, surreal line work reminiscent of underground comics. She is also developing her painting practice in a similar vein. Often, this work is meant to push back against colonial and misogynist beauty standards by being deliberately discomfiting to viewers, even grotesque.

Thanks to her visibility on social media, she has been able to find paid commissions, often from feminist and LGBTQ organizations. Her first book, It Begins With the Body, combines poetry and illustrations in a raw, honest, and feminist coming-of-age narrative

Of course, none of this is easy, even just making a living doing this work. As well, real-life arts spaces are often hostile to outspoken young women of colour, community-based venues in Toronto that provide support are increasingly closing due to gentrification, and the online world can be a cesspit of negativity, deliberate targeting, and theft of creative work.

And yet, she does not hesitate for a moment. She navigates it all by actively aligning herself with other outspoken women of colour and nonbinary people of colour. She refuses to be small and quiet. And she continues to use the power of online connection to speak loudly and to touch lives in a way that, a generation ago, would have been inconceivable.

Image: Used with permission of Hana Shafi.

Theme music: "It Is the Hour (Get Up)" by Snowflake, via CCMixter


Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on Facebook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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