On Instagram, she goes by the name @FrizzKidArt and has amassed a loyal following for her illustrations that are simultaneously simple and profound; heavy messages communicated visually with clarity and thoughtfulness. This month, Hana Shafi celebrated the launch of her new (and first!) book, It Begins With The Body, which combines her love for art and poetry, and is dedicated to “every brown girl with dreams so big the world can barely contain them.”

Though Shafi’s love for writing began when she was a child, it was in high school when she began to enjoy experimenting with art as a way to cope with stress. “I did well in high school—I had good grades, I was in a lot of extracurriculars—but I really didn’t enjoy being there. I felt stifled; I felt very insecure about myself. I went through a lot of high school feeling very invisible, and it sucked.” Expressing herself creatively was, and remains, an important part of how she manages life—a tool for survival: “It’s like a form of therapy for me. It’s the therapy I give myself.”

As a twenty-something, Shafi began to grow a steady fan base on Instagram. It was one particular illustration in March of 2016 that went viral and skyrocketed into the quadruple digits. “I had been dabbling with starting an affirmation series and was particularly inspired by creating affirmations for survivors of sexual violence. I created a piece that said “Healing Is Not Linear,” a pretty popular phrase in therapy, and I did it with flowers.” It resonated deeply with many, especially in the online recovery space. Shafi was able to take a very difficult and complex process and put it into a visual that was understood by millions, creating a perspective of healing that is soft, hopeful and welcoming.

It’s easy to knock social media, but for Shafi, it provided a platform to use her voice and get noticed. “I didn’t go to OCAD. I wasn’t an art student. I didn’t have connections. Social media helps a lot of people who would otherwise be completely excluded from the conversation. A lot more people can name brown artists and authors because of things like Instagram. [Social media has] helped expose people to the very diverse range of voices that they may not have discovered in a pre-social media age. But there’s still a long way to go.”

Shafi will be one of the authors at this year’s Word On The Street Festival. On Saturday, September 23, she will join writer Najwa Zebian (Mind Platter) on stage for the Daily Affirmations program, presented by Amazon.ca Best Sellers. Themes discussed will include self-care, feminist conviction, empowering vulnerability and more. 

We were lucky to sit down with Shafi for an extended conversation about her work, her growth as an artist, her creative process, and why it all begins with the body. Listen to our podcast now.