To create art is to bare your soul and one such artist that willingly succumbs to this process is Shari Jaffri, notably known as the illustrator and writer behind her personal brand, Tragikomedi. With her acuteness towards human sensibilities, she explores daily life in all its complexity and mundanity through words and thoroughly relatable illustrations that can make anyone feel seen and heard. Below, we talked to the creative on the beauty of vulnerability, exploring sadness in art and more.
Can you share with us why you decided on the name 'Tragikomedi' and how that relates to your creative works?
I’ve always liked the word ‘tragicomedy’, which is a literary genre that combines tragic and comic forms. When you think about it, life’s really just funny and sad most times, which is what I try to convey through my works. I tie a lot of the work I do to our Malaysian identity so it felt only right to use the Malay spelling for the word ‘tragicomedy’ as my creative handle.
How would you describe your artistic direction? Was it hard for you to find your voice amidst the noise?
My artistic direction is playful, constantly evolving and not overly concerned with taking itself too seriously. Having the awareness that it’s okay not to have all the answers has helped ease the impostor syndrome. It’s not been too hard to find my voice amidst the noise, maybe because I’m lucky to be able to do things as and when I feel like it and am not too concerned with churning out content according to a fixed schedule or outside expectations.
What is your life and art philosophy? Are they much different?
The way I approach life and art are the same, which is to do things sincerely the best way I can. I believe everything else will follow suit if my intentions are right. If it doesn’t, I see what I can make of it, improvise, and just move on from there. So much of life and art revolves around the process of improvising and reiterating with what we have.
When and why did you first get the idea to start the 'Tragikomedi' platform?
It started in 2018, somewhat by accident. My family surprised me with an iPad and an Apple pencil for my birthday since they noticed I’d been drawing a lot. Around the same time, a good friend DM’ed me with a suggestion to combine my words and doodles and sell them as tshirts. I previously worked as a copywriter in an ad agency so coming up with witty/catchy liners has always been my thing but prior to owning an iPad, I never thought my doodles were of any value.
I took up the challenge as half a joke but the shirt design received some traction on social media and I somehow managed to sell over a hundred pieces! The feedback gave me the motivation to try new things and to see drawing as a new avenue. When I learned I could illustrate to go along with my words, it felt like a new sense of freedom.
I’d like to convey that humour can be a powerful tool to tackle serious topics. That there’s grace in not figuring everything out at once.
As someone who does sensitive art, how do you connect with your emotions? Any tips you can share with other artists?
I connect with my emotions mostly through writing. By playing with humour and satire, emotions become just a bit more approachable and hopefully less heavy. I’m also a voracious reader and reading helps me pause and think clearer about things. My way of coping has always been to read/write in order to make sense of life. Conversations with people I trust are important too. I find that talking to others helps to challenge my own perspectives.
I don’t know what to offer other artists aside than to examine your own truth - work with what you know and think about your intentions before putting something out there. Would it help you and could it help others too?
Can you describe to us your creative process behind deciding which of your works are made into products such as shirts and tote bags?
My creative process with products is still very experimental. I try to make things I hope others would enjoy owning. These are items which are evergreen enough that they could be worn multiple times instead of being seen as just a passing statement, like with my ‘Makan Mana’ or ‘Cries in Insufficient MYR’ shirts.
In your own words, why do you think it's important for your art (or art in general) to also express sadness?
Difficult emotions help us uncover things we might not know about ourselves. It’s crazy that even in 2021, there’s still a lot of stigma in talking about the bad stuff but pretending sadness doesn’t exist isn’t realistic. Life is hard but having art which tackles our darkest parts can help us feel a little safer and a little less disconnected. It can make us feel just a bit more seen. There’s beauty in saying, this happens and that’s a part of the human experience. We’ve to acknowledge sadness in order to grow.
10. Along with illustrating, you're also a Creative Writing major — how would you describe your writing style?
Descriptive and lyrical. I take a lot of inspiration from poetry and song lyrics. I grew up being an introvert and a dreamer who’d get hyper fixated on details out of everyday life so I try to intersperse these observations into my musings as well. After doing my Master’s in Creative Writing in Manchester, I noticed that there’s beauty in pared down writing. My style of writing has evolved from moving from the overly ornate into significantly cleaner writing. The aim is to be understood, not to confuse.
What do you wish to convey with your art?
I’d like to convey that humour can be a powerful tool to tackle serious topics. That there’s grace in not figuring everything out at once. And that, above all else, the intention of being sincere is most important of all.
Can you share with us some ways we can feel more comfortable in our vulnerability?
1) Picture it like jumping into a pool; the anticipation of the cold is probably worse than it actually is. The fear dissipates after you make that jump. Vulnerability will always start off as an uncomfortable experience but willingly putting yourself out there means half the battle’s won.
2) Take yourself out for a meal, alone. Put away your phone. Get to know the thoughts that come to you when you’re truly alone. What are the parts of you that you like and what are the parts of you that you’d like to bury?
What has been your most significant/impactful project thus far and why?
Probably the one I’m working on right now, which is a personal zine focused on documenting the highs and lows of life during the pandemic. This pandemic will undoubtedly lead to a huge cultural shift; what has happened and what will emerge from it will tremendously impact times to come. To document my own musings from this period will be something I’d definitely want to reflect back on in the future.
Who/what are your tragicomic muses?
The director, Bong Joon-Ho. His movies touch on systemic inequality and they’ve shifted my perception towards classism, capitalism and privilege. He also somehow always manages to weave in dark humour into his movies in a way that’s subtle yet smart. Another one is singer, Phoebe Bridgers. Her 2020 album, ‘Punisher’, has probably been my most-played album during the pandemic. She understands the vulnerabilities of being human and what it feels like to want to scream into the void and still maintain a witty perspective towards life.
Lastly, please list 3 of your local creative crushes and their IG handles to shoutout!