Artists under lockdown feat. Cheryl J Hoffmann, Michelle Lee & Ezzam Rahman (Part II)

Updated: May 1, 2020

Straight Talk is where Persona Theory catches up with creatives and artists from around the region, checking if they're still alive and what else they are hiding underneath their beds.

Continuing where we left off from (The Straight Talk: Cup 01 (Part 1))

In the words of Mulan’s Li Shang,

PT: Nice to see you all again Cheryl, Michelle, and Ezzam. Now, was there any specific moment that made you go "this is what I want to do with my life" ?

Cheryl: When I held my first baby in my arms, I knew that I would be unable to resist anything that my children asked of me. I do a lot of really wonderful things in my life, most of which bring great joy, but nothing is more important to me than being a mom. Michelle: When I first started reading comics. I'm inspired by how comic artists are able to create amazing story and action scenes by just showing it in a form of comic and illustration. Ezzam: The day I received the acceptance letter in the mailbox, to be a student at LASALLE College of the Arts in 2000.

PT: What is scary about your work?

Cheryl: From my perspective? That I will never be satisfied with it. From the perspective of the viewer? I don’t know, you have to ask a viewer. I’ve heard people say they see ghosts but I’m not sure why that would be scary. A good image manipulates light and shadow and the viewer’s mind.

Bump in the night

by Cheryl J Hoffmann

Michelle: When you're working on a digital medium with a tight deadline, God decides to bless you with a technical breakdown on every gadget you have, making work impossible. Ezzam: When I was much younger, I was afraid of not being accepted, may it be in general life or in the works that I create and produce. I grew a thicker layer of skin, literally, and now I am able to take any criticism openly. I used to be defensive and way too emotional or too attached to my work. There is really nothing scary about the works that I do, but there are subtle strategic approaches I make to address certain issues that bother me. Sometimes, my presentations are in your face, very direct but most of the time they are gentle taps of reminders.

What I need may not be what I want from you

by Ezzam Rahman

"I wanted to portray the repetitiveness of everyday laborious actions and representations of relationships within family units and class systems."

PT: Is sexuality a part of your work? If so, what are your thoughts on it?

Cheryl: If vulnerability is sexual, then yes, it’s part of my work. I don’t go into a shoot thinking that the images are going to be sexual, but heightened states of awareness (which I often shoot) can be.


by Cheryl J Hoffmann

Michelle: Mainly, no, but it'll be interesting to involve elements like that into some part of the project that I'm working on.

Mercedes (Fires At Midnight)

by Michelle Lee

Ezzam: Hey, Sex Sells Right? HAHAHA! I remember a curator labeled me as a queer artist and I wasn't really happy with that association. If my works have any sexual connotations, must they be categorized? Even if I am queer, why can't others see my works with general interpretations instead of trying to sexualize the artist or the works?

PT: Describe sex in one word. Or a sentence.

Cheryl: Liquidity.


by Cheryl J Hoffmann

"I shot a series of this androgynous peacock dancer from a temple in Sentul a few years back. I think this one may outlive me."

Michelle: Gender. Ezzam: Sex is.....eeerrhhmmmaaaaaaahhhhhh (biting lower lip / slight sweat) aaaahhhh... NATURAL!

PT: How does your work affect the people closest to you?

Cheryl: My children are really happy that I have something to be passionate about, to consume my creative energies and slow down my moments of over-mothering. I’m lucky that, as an artist, that I live alone. I can be as self-indulgent as I want.

Place keeper

by Cheryl J Hoffman

"People think that the Datuk must live there because it grows magically. AND the cobras like termite hills (think dinner) and it is believed that cobras protect Datuk Kong."

Michelle: I do think that I would get too invested in work that I would unintentionally cut off socialising with other people. Deadlines are very important to me as it will determine how focused I am to completing a task. But when I do get things done, I will do my best to allocate some time to spend it with the people close to me no matter how short the break periods are. Ezzam: The closest human being to me is mum. She is my mother, my best friend, my worst critic, my extra eye for my art practice. She is a good example of the general audience. Each time I complete an artwork, I will show it to her and she will either praise it or insult it! HAHA! Of course my art practice also revolves around her opinions too. Because I am such a fantastic son, *Smirks* mum became an art appreciator. I witnessed her openness towards my practice and she is also constantly learning from me.

In closeness for me there is still distance for you

by Ezzam Rahman

PT: The time to close is soon upon us, as the clock nears 8pm. Last question for our lovely guests If there's a film made about you… What would it be about? And what would the title be?

Cheryl: Free Falling – about Cheryl learning to pack her own parachute. Michelle: It'll be about world extinction. Due to mysterious circumstances that can't be explained, an unknown phenomenon has wiped out the entire human race and left only one survivor. Me. Like any survivor, I will have to find ways to survive and keep living to see what the next day brings. The title of this film would be Me and the World. Ezzam: Oh, wow... While I am still alive or when I'm dead? I think I would love the film to be a documentary of my art practice. The filmmaker will typically interview the curators I worked with, before my ex-students, artists who know me, my family and closest friends... but plot twist, the interview ends with my ex-partners and they finally realized most of my works were about them! Then they will cry on camera with regret and guilt because they had been huge A-holes towards me all these while! HAHAHA! Obviously, I am very bitter and have yet to move on! HAHAHA!

Complete this sentence, mirror-mirror on the wall...

Cheryl: Did the person who hung this forget that I’m tall?

Michelle: Who's the "FAM-ous" one of them all?

Ezzam: *crack*


PT: Thanks for joining us for a cup. We hope there's a nugget of knowledge somewhere in there that you, our readers, can take away. Next, we'll be interviewing people that make melody, sound and music. What's the difference? Let's hope they can enlighten us.

Selamat jalan. From us, at Persona Theory Games.

As usual, do follow us on our socials on Twitter (@personatheorymy), Instagram (@personatheory) (@firesatmidnightgame), and Facebook (@personatheory) (@firesatmidnight) for more info on us and our upcoming narrative interactive video game, Fires At Midnight — which centers around a young couple living in late 90's Kuala Lumpur, struggling to make ends meet while being stuck in a toxic relationship.

Let Love Burn - Fires At Midnight's latest teaser.

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