Shawna Farinango

“Get to Know” is a series that profiles Indigenous artists engaged in Harbour projects. Collective member Vanda Fleury connected with Shawna Farinango by Zoom in the Spring of 2022 to bring you this feature article.

Shawna Farinango is driven by a desire to have Indigenous voices and faces reflected in media. Empowering imagery and messaging fuel her artistic pursuits. The layers of her identity and culture are found in the folds of sketchpads and in the keystrokes of digital platforms. Normalizing positive identity is her purpose and her work is founded on the glory of self-acceptance and culturally diverse representations of Indigenous women. She emulates resilient women like her mom, sister, and grandma and says, “they inspire me to chase my dreams and be myself.” Our ancestors leave a legacy of resilience, and Shawna knows this is a rich inheritance.

Shawna’s creations are realized through film and digital illustrations. She combines textures, photographs, and drawings, and her art is an investigation into the connections we as Indigenous people have to community, nature, food, and clothing. Stemming from personal experiences and stories her parents have shared, her art brings their perspectives to life. Shawna’s work is a demonstration of larger issues like Indigenous rights, cultural identity, discrimination, and climate justice and she points out, “it’s not just the pretty of culture.” As these stories evolve, so too does her art.

Shawna’s illustrations draw people in, and she uses them to speak to important topics that often get dismissed as political issues. In 2021 she travelled to Brooklyn, New York as part of a group show honouring Native American activist, Leonard Peltier. Her work was presented alongside art he created in jail in an exhibition called The Fight to Free Leonard Peltier – Honoring Indigenous Culture & Heritage.[1] Her work strengthens the collective memory and illuminates what sovereignty looks like to Indigenous people. The platforms through which this confident storyteller expresses herself achieve the widest impacts.

Shawna’s artistic journey was first marked by crayons on a little notebook, then by pencil on an ever-faithful sketch book. She graduated to a computer and then to an iPad, which she now keeps by her bedside to document her ideas, many of which are passed to her through dreams. Childhood dyslexia made writing a challenge, whereas drawing and videos proved to be successful mediums for expressing herself. Visual literacy empowered her to find her voice. She once created a prototype for an app that teaches Indigenous language through cultural graphics. Mapping out terms and creating illustrations of traditional clothing was a seamless process. Shawna’s instructor and her peers were impressed because she solved a real-life issueof saving an Indigenous language. Realizing her talent and capabilities marked a pivotal moment in her evolution.

Shawna draws from all her skillsets and bridges her artistic endeavors with education. She took a 3-year College program to study Multimedia Design that offered take-aways about illustrating, coding, photography, film, and marketing. While it was a useful experience, it did not measure up in terms of teaching specifics about illustrations. Instead, Shawna focused her attention on other cues and followed her intuition, such that now, illustrations have taken her art to another level. She plans to take up space working on large public murals as a mainstream artist. She also feels a pull towards graphic novels and has plans to mold a superhero character who much like herself, uses artistic gifts to work through childhood ADHD and dyslexia. It would be a therapeutic process for the reader, and on the flipside, the creator too.

Feeling comfortable in her skin, she wonders if her peers would ever imagine that she would rise to become a talented graphic designer and celebrated artist. Shawna thinks back to the doubt that had her turned inside out in high school. She grew up in the 2000’s in a low-income family in an Ontario suburb where there were few people of colour. Fear of bullying kept many people silent about their cultural identity. The choice to honour yourself can feel like a bold move, but Shawna says, “don’t be scared to be yourself, to love yourself.” The pride she glows with today is from being conscientious about her place in her family, community, and history.

She also recognizes the spirit of her inner child, who would be delighted at what she has accomplished and proud of all she has overcome. Shawna has done her share of heavy lifting, through the growing pains of youth where misguided ideals of a single standard of beauty met distasteful outfits that were worn to fit in. She found mainstream models have no shape and a positive self-identity stem from an appreciation of all body types and facial characteristics. “Little features of our ancestors are visible within us; we need to embrace that for the next generation” says Farinango. Immersed in social media initiatives that empower self-definition, she recognizes the potential for change through TikTok and other apps.

A sense of community is another important space to define, especially for Indigenous artists. A healthy group dynamic grows ideas in an uncompetitive environment and sets up a support network that can last a lifetime. “We’ve been taught that only one person can win, but that doesn’t have to be the narrative” says Farinango. “When you feel detached, remember there are other people who want to grow the same as you.” The Harbour Retreat at Meech Lake, ON in the summer of 2021 was a healing moment for her where among her peers, she felt seen, heard, and understood. Coming out of a Covid-19 wave, they gathered to share stories and knowledge, experience joy, and to create! It was the perfect storm, and a collaborative video reflects a cohort at peace, and at home, on the lake water.[2]

Get to know Shawna and see more of her work by following her videos on TikTok @jasmine_shawnaf, on Instagram jasmine_shawnaf@instagram, and through her website: www.shawnafarinango.com


[1] The Fight to Free Leonard Peltier – Honoring Indigenous Culture & Heritage (July 18, 2022) is an exhibition that honours Indigenous resistance, identity, and social justice. It is an act of cultural survival, showcasing Indigenous artists from all ages and mediums. [Online]. Available: https://www.theclementecenter.org/exhibitions-1/honoring-indigenous-culture [2022, July 2].

[2] Harbour Collective (October 12, 2021). Film by Howard Adler & Cooper.“Indigenous Film Retreat”, Meech Lake Retreat (2021). [Online]. Available: https://youtu.be/WF2ENQprh40 [2022, July 2].

Shawna Farinango is a Kichwa Artist based in Haudenosaunee territory also known as Hamilton, Ontario. Her work is inspired by the matriarchs in her family and the celebration and honoring of her identity and la pachamama (Mother Earth). Through her art she tries to showcase her experiences of what it means to live in a marginalized brown Indigenous body while reimagining our world, strengthening our collective memory, and materializing the connection that we have to the earth through visual art. She creates art to make the existence of indigenous people visible. She hopes to inspire other Indigenous peoples to celebrate and honor their identities with strength and courage.

“Get to Know” series is made possible with support from the Canada Council for the Arts, Creating, Knowing and Sharing.

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