Gender, Love, Social Justice

Meet Hana Shafi, the incredible creative lighting up the self-affirmation revolution

We tend to undermine ourselves, because society makes us question our value and our worth and think that our contributions are somehow lesser.

Hana Shafi is an artist, journalist and all-around creative being from the Greater Toronto Area. With her Instagram and Tumblr art blog, Hana inspires and lights up people around the globe through her positive affirmation series. The series, which encompasses healing and soothing images in soft tones and comforting themes, went viral last year, and she’s never looked back. She spoke with The Tempest to share her thoughts and feelings about her creativity, out-going personality, and motivations behind her positive affirmation series and her other artwork.

The Tempest: When did you start developing your creative voice?

Hana Shafi: It’s hard to really pinpoint where that started, because like most creative people, it’s been a lifelong process, and there’s always sort of been some creative development at every stage of my life even before I started putting more time into art. I mean, I didn’t put as much time into visual art when I was a kid. I was doing mostly writing, and I still do writing, but now obviously, I started to put a lot of time into visual arts. 

What drives you to make art? 

HS: I mean, I think it started off as a mostly therapeutic thing for myself. It was something for me to do for myself to ease my anxiety and my stress, and have a sort of healthy outlet for things. Some of it too was just sort of natural.

Like I’ve never been in a situation where I’m not doodling something. It was always a habit of mine throughout my school years. I used to have my old high school binders, they were literally like covered from top to bottom in drawings. It was sort of just something that I do, like I have to be doing it. Yeah, I think it’s just sort of something that comes to me very naturally.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 3.34.36 PM
Property of Hana Shafi

A lot of your art encompasses healing, acceptance, affirmation. You talked a little bit about how your art is therapeutic to you. What drew you towards encompassing those ideas into your art, and why do you think that’s important?

HS: “I Believe Survivors” was trending on Twitter and it had become this big hashtag. So, I made three pieces of “I believe survivors” artwork. I just got a really positive reaction and people, it just made them feel really safe or happy and, you know, my art had never had that effect on people before. When I got that reaction from people, I was like, “Wow, there is art you can make that makes people feel really good, and that makes me feel really good.”

Then I decided that maybe I should do more of this kind of style, just like very healing and very centered around self-love and social justice and sort of accessible advice. So I started making more of those and that’s just how it kind of took off.

I think that also the need for accessible advice and positive affirmation work that wasn’t completely informed by privilege, because that’s what I have seen mostly in terms of the whole positivity community or the wellness community is a lot of it is very privileged, very impractical, doesn’t really take into account the different factors in people’s life that might stop them from being able to take certain bits of advice, so you see you see a lot of things like “travel to broaden your horizons” and “don’t let mean people talk you down.” I mean, I just think that’s bullshit because things will hurt you and you have to be able to live your sadness for as long as it takes before you can move on from it.

So I was like, you know, “I’m going to make art that I think is accessible that relates to me and my problems” and also can, you know, relate to others that may not necessarily be in the most privileged position and won’t be able to follow sort of conventional positive rhetoric.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 3.34.18 PM
Property of Hana Shafi

How have you come to understand your style?

HS: So, the way that I would sort of get into understanding my style is when I first started starting doing more drawing, I’m sort of deeply meditating when I’m doing my work, because you have to dig down very deep to transfer whatever weird ideas you have filtering in the back of your subconscious, like through your head and through your arm, through your hand and to your fingers and onto the paper.

So I would really have to dig very deep, and, I would just have — it sounds so creepy to say — but I would just have weird images in my head and I couldn’t really explain why I pictured things a certain way, so when I was doing really like weird, like long faces and things like that I don’t know why I drew body parts so exaggerated and so intense, but you just kind of have to go with it, like real slowly and really focus on yourself and tune everything out and literally take that weird image. The problem is is that we try to sort of self-edit, we try to edit things that we see in our head so that when we put it on paper it’s something that makes sense and is appropriate, but art doesn’t have to make sense, right?

So, I slowly started to embrace that kind of that weird style, that kind of intense style, that disproportionate look. I took advantage of the fact that I already had trouble drawing proportionate features. 

To get into the positive affirmation, a very simple, kind of clear cut, kind of digital style. Obviously, that was inspired by the work that I saw around me. I liked how people could create such sweet images. And, again, I thought a lot about what images I sort of associated with those messages, right? When I thought of something like, healing, for me, it tended to make me think of things like nature and that were soft and organic and reliable. So, those kinds of feelings I would bring into my head and it was just a matter of putting it on myself and translating that.

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 11.49.27 AM
Property of Hana Shafi

Do you have any advice for young women of color who are looking to pursue what you’re pursuing right now?

HS: I guess, I would advise them to understand their value and their self-worth, and that they are worth it and that they are good at what they do, because the thing that tends to debilitate a lot of creative people, especially young women and women of color and really any marginalized folks — trans folks, nonbinary folks, folks with disabilities, folks with mental illness, folks with face trauma — is that we tend to undermine ourselves, because society undermines us and makes us question our value and our worth and makes us think that our contributions are somehow lesser or not good enough. Understanding your worth is the thing that drives me to creative things, when you don’t understand your worth is there is little other incentives to do these things. It does not sustain a livelihood for a lot of people.

Some people do become successful in art, but other people, you know, they need their day job. That’s the reality of life.

And people are mean when you put art out there, you are vulnerable when you create something. People want to tear it down … I see it with my art. I see it with my writing. The only thing that gets me going — aside from obviously all the wonderful support from great people — is me saying, “No, I’m worth it. My art is worth it.” That’s what keeps me going. You have to have self-worth, which is easier said than done obviously, but it will give you the drive to keep going in a field that is so often undermined, especially when you are marginalized and so used to being told you can’t. 

Make sure to check out Hana Shafi on her Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.