The following essay appears as part of the month-long series “Post-Truth Politics and the Creative Craft” on the blog, curated by guest editor Natalie Wee.
I go online.
I write, “I’ve experienced ______.” Racism, misogyny, Islamophobia. I write about what’s happened. What I’ve heard. What I’ve experienced. It is a fact. I experienced this. The debate starts.
Lately, my truth has always been up for debate. In the post-truth era we find ourselves in, the most powerful of society regularly band together, often via social media, to participate in a collective gaslighting of sorts. You didn’t experience this. It didn’t happen. You’re lying. And I ask: did this experience happen? Is my reaction justified?
I create art instead. An interpretation of my experience. Now it becomes less of an objective fact and more of a creative representation of my reality. I wonder now if no one can accuse me of lying—after all, we, as a society, rarely regard art as truth anyway, but as interpretations of reality instead.
But then my art is approached with debate as well. You’re wrong. It’s not like that. You didn’t experience this. This problem isn’t real. Your feelings aren’t real. The more I hear it, the more it boils down to: you’re not real. If my experiences with racism, or misogyny, or Islamophobia, or the other forms of discrimination I’ve dealt with, aren’t real, then that means my identity as a brown, Muslim woman isn’t real either. In a post-truth era, where hateful ideology is given a voice over fact, then perhaps I am not really there. When you erase my experiences, you erase me. When you debate the truth of my life, you debate over my existence. I am reduced to a concept, not a person. A political discussion, not a human who has lived it and breathed it. I become not just a politicized identity, but politics itself.
When did I stop existing? I scroll through trolling comments online. I scroll through propaganda articles. There are people asking who should be banned and who should be punished. Are women too sensitive these days? Are Millennials obsessed with political correctness? Are immigrants more violent? Are Muslims dangerous? I read through them almost in a state of sleep paralysis. Everyone is talking about me. Everyone is talking about us, as if we are not there, not human, not truth, not reality, just ideas up for debate. People outside the realm of our truth are deciding our experiences for us.
In the post-truth era we find ourselves in, the most powerful of society regularly band together, often via social media, to participate in a collective gaslighting of sorts.
We are living in an unprecedented time when the wealth of information is so vast, and the spread of information is so rapid that we are barely able to keep up with all of the content we ourselves produce. There is so much; we hardly know what is real anymore. Well, I know what’s real. Or do I? I tell myself I do. Then a contingent of angry cishet white men answer back: No, you don’t!
How do you make art in a post-truth era? Or rather, how do I, as a person of many marginalized identities, make art in a post-truth era?
I just make it. I make it knowing that it will be doubted, deconstructed, and debated. I make it knowing that everything I feel inside me, what I feel to be true and real and just, will be questioned. I make it preparing myself to be gaslit. You are wrong, your art is wrong, this is garbage, feminist garbage, political garbage, leftist garbage.
Maybe it is. Maybe me, my art, my stories, and my existence are just feminist leftist garbage. That being said: garbage is still real. My art is still real even if you see it as garbage. My truth is still real, even if you see my truth as garbage. I am still a strong, beautiful, soft, and hard brown woman, whether you see me as garbage. That’s okay. Clearly, my trash is something you just can’t look away from. I can be doubted as wrong, my feelings as oversensitive, my feminism as too aggressive, my identity as too controversial, but I’m visible.
Hana Shafi AKA Frizz Kid is an illustrator and National Magazine Award–nominated journalist based out of Toronto. Her artwork and writing frequently explore themes of feminism, bodily autonomy, mental wellness, and dismantling sexual violence. In Fall 2016, Hana was the Artist in Residence at Ryerson University, where she led a series of art healing workshops for survivors of sexual violence, and curated an Ontario Arts Council–funded art show with the travelling pop-up art gallery Sexual Assault: The Roadshow.