Have you ever imagined a witch ? Talula Zuhra who goes by the name of Ula, who was a Jakarta based illustrator (currently living in Venice) gives us the almost realistic visuals on witches. Her love of campy horror movies in the 1980s influenced most of her work. Her work involved erotic literature and find the candid female sexuality. 

Ula Zuhra (@ulazuhra)

We are ready to bewitched and trying to understand her approach to art in this Pull Over. We asked Ula personally about the life behind her work, what inspires her, and moreover her love for horror. Here is our little chat with Ula : 

How do you define yourself as an artist ? 

I see myself as an art enthusiast first and an illustrator second. 

When did it all start and why did you choose this path as an artist ?

I’ve always painted and drawn since I was young, my parents were always incredible and supportive.There were no limits to what I could read or watch, they gave me freedom and for that I am thankful. I don’t really see myself confined as an artist, first and foremost I am a worker in the arts; I work in an art advisory firm, I curate independently and I illustrate on the side.

“No One Will Survive This” gouache and ink on watercolor paper, Ula Zuhra

What we can see that you try to have a different approach to illustration where you always incorporate woman in it. Why such an approach ?

Because I am a woman, it has always been my vessel. Being a woman is such a complex concept, something that even now I haven’t completely mastered in undertaking. But mostly, and to be completely honest, because women are beautiful. I love and appreciate beautiful, interesting women and that is what I try to interpret in my paintings. 

how to serve man. 2021. gouache and ink on watercolor paper, Ula Zuhra

What kind of message do you usually want to convey in your art ?

Nothing. I always try to de-intellectualize my illustrations because I don’t want to deepen something as simple as a portrait of an imaginary woman in her room or panels that tell an ambiguous story. Some of my works are very sex positive and I can see that as a higher purpose in my work but most of the time I let things flow organically without any message to it.

Who do you look up to in terms of art references ? 

I love comic artists. Junji Ito, Simon Hanselmann, Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Suehiro Maruo, Aline Kominsky-Crumb and her husband R. Crumb. Junji Ito was a big influence for me in my teenage years, he was a revelation. Other artists that I love are Francis Bacon, Hermann Nitsch, Jean Dominique Ingres, Marlene Dumas, Joan Jonas, Wangechi Mutu, Nam June Paik.

What inspires you the most ?

I am inspired by gnostic studies and the occult and find myself coming back to it for endless inspiration. Horror films, mostly B-movies from the 1980s. Pulp book covers, BDSM magazines from the 60s-80s, William S. Burroughs (literally everything he touches turns into gold) and my friends. I enjoy painting portrait commissions because I get to learn about my clients. Some of my illustrations really visualize what my interests are at the time of production, I would drop hints of various books I’m reading or films I enjoyed recently, things like that. I am very transparent.

If you can actually sum your art into any book what would it be ?

Oh this is a great question. I recently finished Carmen Maria Machado’s short story collection Her Body and Other Parties and I absolutely loved it. It was comedic but dark, sensual and very very womanly. I also started getting into Eve Babitz, she is so fabulous and funny and everything I want the girls in my illustrations to be. Or maybe a modernized version of Story of The Eye by Georges Bataille.

What’s the most memorable thing for you in your journey as an illustrator?

Well, I kind of stopped drawing/painting for a few years after graduating college. Life distracted me from it, I think I had too much euphoria in my early 20s. Turning 27 was monumental in a way that I was very depressed and thought that I was just merely existing. In a way, I was so sad and bored that I rediscovered painting and found solace in it. It’s a better coping mechanism.

You recently moved to Italy (temporarily we presume ?), how does it feel to see new perspectives in your current domicile ?

Venice is so different from any other place I’ve been. I think when you breathe in beauty everyday, things change in a way. I have to be honest, I’ve been painting less here, either because I’ve been distracted or because the beauty has been so overwhelming that I could only take one thing at a time. Time is sedated here, it moves almost in slow motion in the city. Everyone is relaxed, they have their first alcoholic drink at 10AM and continue throughout the day, it’s fantastic but easy to get caught up in it.

What kind of things that you wished that you could bring back home ?

My friends, the atmosphere, the memory of August of this year and delicious cheap wine and prosecco.

courtesy of Ula Zuhra

How’s the journey abroad ? And how does it affect your perspective of art ?

My knowledge of European artists and institutions have widened, but my perspective is not too different from how I thought about art before. To have conversations with people from different backgrounds during my course opened my mind to many possibilities on how to approach art. I don’t agree with the western-centric standardised view of fine art, so I think the Indonesian art scene (and Asia & Southeast Asia) is not too far off from what they have here in terms of creativity and originality. We just need more Indonesian institutions and museums to collaborate and expose our art farther around the world, to have an exchange so that the Indonesian public can have access to more international art & education as well.

If there’s anyone that you can illustrate who would it be and why ?

Marjorie Cameron (RIP, absolute legend), The Toxic Avenger or John Waters in his library.

Lastly, what’s your advice to someone who wants to start their own journey as an illustration artist ?

Just do it, think later. Nothing’s stopping you. 

If you’re excited to see more. You can discover more of her work here.