Sheanae Tam, artist, educator, and farmer

Girl Boss Photo Series


Can you share a challenging moment in your career and how you overcame it?

I got laid off. Being out of a job and having no work, caused me to think deeply about all aspects of my life - personal, social, professionally, emotionally, spiritually, etc. Where exactly all my energy was going towards? I realized I kept going from job to job - building other people, brands, and organizations up, and my priorities were always on the back burner. Unemployment (as shitty as it was getting laid off and mourning my old work team) opened up an opportunity to spend time and energy for healing, and pivot towards art and farming full-time, rather than just occasionally on the weekends. 

What inspired you to pursue your current career path? 

I also had a few near death experiences, which really got me thinking - how do I want to spend the rest of my days on this Earth? Everyday, we all take one step closer to death. Death is inevitable. And we donʻt know our exact end date. Could be tomorrow or 20 years from now. 

I've also had over 20+ jobs since I was 17.. so I have a better understanding of what I do and donʻt want to do through many of those experiences. 

Which brings me back to my question, how do I want to spend the rest of my days (time & energy) on this Earth? And my answer is, by uplifting our lāhui & communities, through art, cultural education, and food sovereignty/farming.

I am an artist, educator, and farmer.

What activities or practices contribute to your overall well-being outside of work?

Diving. The water always teaches me that the world is so much bigger than me. Being underwater and under pressure, mutes the noises around me.

Duke. My dog helps to keep me alive and motivated to stay active.

Friends. Lucky to have a great support system and friends to talk to, hang out, bounce ideas off of, and keep me from going insane. 

Q: If you could share one piece of advice with young women entering your industry, what would it be?

If you are pursuing work in science, art, and culture hereʻs my advice:

1.  Be Genuine & Authentic 

2. Don't be afraid to ask questions. There are people in almost every field that's willing to help guide you or at least inform you of the 'ike you seek. 

3. Be Pono. Go in with the right intentions. Don't become an artist solely for the money. Funding is nice and getting paid for work is essential for survival nowadays, but money should not be the #1 incentive/drive to do work that involves culture, art, science, students, and education. Which brings me to #4

4. Do your research. Being a conduit of 'ike from researchers, scientists, kupuna, keiki, and all forms that share their time and space with me is important. It's an honor and privilege to translate their work into art, so its important to do research especially if your work is heavy and requires it. (But there's also other commission work or side projects that don't ask for it. So don't forget to have fun) 

5.  Be prepared to work hard. Period. There were many semesters where I would work, go to school, go to my second job and do art and burn the midnight oil to make deadlines. I'm not advising this lifestyle, but be prepared to work for the things you want, esp if you are financially supporting yourself. 

6. If you're passionate about an idea, pursue it. 

7. Listen to your na'au 

Also, having other strong and grounded women in your network helps too. 

Through my journey, many people continue to doubt and question my career choice in art - it is tough. So you must stand strong and firm in your artistry and work, even when people have strong opinions that say otherwise (the "you can't do that" and "don't do that" or the "you should go into *this other career* because it makes more money and is more stable”. I've told myself that that language is just their way of caring about me, and to keep it moving. Society often wants to put us in a box, but fuck that box if ainʻt working for you.

Are there any projects or goals you're excited about pursuing in the future?

Grants writing and working with more 'āina based non-profits organizations that share the same values. I'm excited to expand and continue making arts integrated experiences for the next generation of keiki. 

Are there specific elements or items in your workspace that hold special significance to you?

In my workspace, I almost always have music. Music helps me power through everything. I canʻt imagine my life or art without music. Music helps me get in the zone and the right headspace to work and function.