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Ula is not a sapiosexual
The Debrief with Ula Zuhra, a visual artist based in Jakarta.
Welcome to The Debrief, the Monday edition of this newsletter where I ask people to share their burning thoughts and interests.
This week I talk to Ula. In the spirit of full-disclosure, Ula to me is one of those people who, when I bump into her, I’m always too scared to initiate a “hello” even though we’ve been introduced by a mutual a few years ago. She just… oozes cool, plain and simple. A cool that is particularly striking to me in a sea of Jaksel party attendees. She always just seems so at ease, like someone who was meant to be there all along and never had to question her “cultural fitness”. But catch a glimpse of her gaze under a different light and you’d wonder if that “ease” was actually annoyance masquerading as indifference. Like maybe something in her immediate surroundings was bothering her just a little bit? (Catch me wishing it wasn’t me).
Avi, the mutual who introduced us, put it best: “Ula is the original It Girl”. Ichi, one of Ula’s very good friend, added: “She’s a washed-up It Girl — in a non-derogatory way, because fuck It Girls, right? They exist for the male gaze. She is way past that.” I talked to the both of them over the phone to get their thoughts about Ula, to make sure my more distanced impressions aren’t misguided. In our conversations, the two seem to agree that while she may be a walking Jaksel prototype, she’s far from a Jaksel cliche.
“I appreciate her for her discourses. The world may know her best as an illustrator, as an artist, but when you talk to her, you realize here’s a person with curiosity and depth,” Avi said. “She’s not just some fake artsy girl. She’s a true artist. Genuine and real.”
“She lives outside the state, outside the norms, she’s definitely more punk and radical than most queer people I know,” Ichi said.
This male gaze-defying, norm-bending spirit is apparent in her art, where the beauty of the women she depicts is in their mess and foulness, in the stray thoughts they mutter under their breath when they think no one’s listening.
“The reason why her work is interesting and appealing to me is because she’s naturally funny and raw,” said Avi, who has also been working with Ula to publish her upcoming comic under Cahyati Press. “Her work always explores the disgusting parts of being a woman.”
Ichi describes this upcoming comic as “a manifesto for cegiltopia — except that the citizens of cegiltopia are all her in various shades. Everyone is a main character in her world-making.”
“The comic is like her in real life.”
What’s an unpopular opinion that you feel strongly about?
Being contrarian is lame. It’s okay to agree with the masses. Being Sigma is passe!!
Tiktok lives are actually dark and unsettling. I sleep really late and on some nights, I’ll scroll through Tiktok lives. Now, this is uncharted grounds, it’s No Man’s Land. A man in full clown get up juggling balls while a small child lies on a mattress in front of him, a woman literally soaking in a deep puddle full of dirty water asking viewers to give her points before dousing herself with more dirty water, a horror show where a person dressed in ghost costume (complete with corpse paint) stands in the corner of the room for hours, people acting as TB ridden NPCs! What the actual fuck! I don’t know what kind of algorithm I’m entangled in, it’s like Dante’s nine circles of hell but it’s just endless scrolling.
I think fandom culture is strange. Having a para-social relationship with another human being that just happens to be famous is an odd thing for me. I don’t get it. I mean, I love Fiona Apple but I wouldn’t take a bullet for her.
What’s something you’re currently obsessed with?
I recently found out that Hans Bellmer made illustrations for Georges Bataille’s “Story of The Eye”. I love a good joint slay, like, are you serious? “The Story of The Eye” was one of the first transgressive erotica I’ve read, and I was always been attracted to the taboo ever since I was a child (I’m not sure if it was because of my father’s extensive R-rated DVD collection or the fact that I watched a queer-coded Atom Egoyan film too early in my pre-teen years).
It also seems like Bellmer was born to do these illustration, I read in an academic paper about the collaboration that Bellmer was the “predestined illustrator” to this novel. Bataille and Bellmer has clear philosophical and aesthetic affinities that most people would call crass and pornographic. Sometimes I’m afraid that I’m too much of an edgelord being obsessed with transgressive things, but then I realize it’s probably because I’ve glamorized filth so much in my life that I feel like I’ve marinated in it and grown insensitive to it. My therapist tells me I should watch more rom-coms, obviously I haven’t gotten around to it.
Watching a movie on mute (with subtitles) and putting a great album on. Last great combination I did was Toshio Matsumoto’s film “Demons” and “Love Means Taking Action” by Croatian Amor. You can’t exactly concentrate on the film, seeing that the audio would obviously overwhelm the visuals, but I think it’s like a little head massage. I have a few bookmarked pages on old Japanese films and 70s anti-drug propaganda films on Youtube and it truly never fails. One time, I put on “Funky Forest” to Bruce Haack’s “Electric Lucifer” and that was like, mind blowing.
Talking to my cat. I was unemployed for a while, so I couldn’t afford therapy for a few months. I hated talking to my friends about my problems so sometimes I talk to my cat. My cat lives with my mum, so it really does feel like a therapy appointment because I only see her on Wednesdays and Thursdays (she’s so busy destroying the sofa and overeating on other days). My cat’s name is Zaza and I’m convinced she understands me, she’d blink both her eyes to signify her empathy and I blink back, she’d rest her head on my leg when I can’t sleep and I swear her purrs work like Antimo to me. Cats are heaven sent and I’ll be obsessed with Zaza until I die.
Who’s someone you think more people should know about?
Mire Lee. She’s a Korean artist who I first stumbled upon when I saw her joint exhibition with H.R. Giger in Berlin online. Lee makes kinetic sculptures where motors, tubes, and pumps paired with silicone and liquids become messy, surreal entities.
As a lover of body horror, her work reminds me a lot of Cronenberg and Brian Yuzna’s “Society”. These sculptures pulsate and ooze liquids, almost like a self-sufficient digestive system. Ultimately, I find her work really sensual and erotic, and one day I hope to see her work in person.
My friend @ashtraygrrl or Diedra or Nyon. They are my favourite illustrator. We go together like Ilana and Abby. Listening to their stories made me laugh and gag. They made 50% of the tattoos I have on my body and I love them all.
Cookie Mueller, who is an actress, artist, writer and all around it-girl. My friend once told me that I remind her of a filthy bathroom in the middle of the desert in a Rob Zombie film and that’s how I feel about Cookie Mueller (trust me, this is not an insult. A dingy bar bathroom in the middle of nowhere is exactly how I want to be described by my best friend).
Mueller was a regular in John Waters’ cinematic universe and her book “Walking In Clear Water in A Pool Painted Black” is a dark comedy masterpiece. It’s like Joan Didion if she dabbled in crack and occasionally went to punk shows. A collection of short stories taken from her real life situations, sometimes dark and unsettling but always served with humor. Burning her friend’s house down, being NEARLY SACRIFICED by Anton Lavey (work!), or fleeing a serial murdered in a G-string (serve!). Here is something that she said that stuck with me :
“Fortunately I am not the first person to tell you that you will never die. You simply lose your body. You will be the same except you won't have to worry about rent or mortgages or fashionable clothes. You will be released from sexual obsessions. You will not have drug addictions. You will not need alcohol. You will not have to worry about cellulite or cigarettes or cancer or AIDS or venereal disease. You will be free.”
And that’s so real. RIP to a real wild one!
What’s a life hack or advice that recently changed your life?
Nothing is ever that serious.
What’s something you recently changed your mind about?
Dating for discourse, lol. Sapiosexualism is a disease and I was cured! My god, what a revelation. When a relationship is made up of 70% discussion and 30% actual “dating”, you slowly realize that this kind of relationship is better when it’s among friends.
What are you most excited about in the coming weeks?
My comic “Aca and Ica” is coming out this October with Cahyati Press. I’m mostly excited about that. Shout out to Avi and Kat!
It has been a tough year, so I’m looking forward to anything that comes at me right now. I’m raw-dogging life as we speak.
The Debrief is the Monday installation of this newsletter. Visit past Debriefs with Rocky who thinks about the Byzantine Empire daily, Erin who nerded out about Asean , Avi who talked about gatekeeping and Vero who hates ambient music. On Wednesdays, I tend to publish essays. On Fridays, I send out a brief pleasure list.