Stepping into Afa Annfa’s studio, the one thing that stands out the most is her collection of dolls. Bearing goofy oversized heads, they appear adorable at first but a closer look yields an entirely different impression – a sense of sadness, which seems to linger just beneath their cheery demeanors, belies their cute appearance. Similar subtleties are found in the Hong Kong-based artist’s own works. Taking a close look – past the muted pastel colors, the young female characters wearing school uniforms, and the seemingly angelic entities fluttering about – the false sense of charm in her work quickly fades away and is instead replaced by an unsettling sense of melancholy.
Prior to becoming a full-time illustrator, Afa Annfa worked as an art director for an advertising firm and was also an established model and actor. But her interest in illustration didn’t arise out of thin air; it can be traced back to her childhood days. Afa’s father was an interior designer and her older sister was passionate about art; growing up in such a creative environment, picking up drawing was only natural to her. Despite not having had any formal art education, she was already drawing cartoon characters on her own in middle school. She sees her lack of formal training as giving her art a sense of purity and innocence. “I usually just practice by myself,” Afa says. “And I tend to draw with my feelings and instincts.” Recently, we caught up with Afa and talked to her about harnessing creativity, the underlying themes in her work, and what being a “slasher” means to her.
在成为一名全职插画师之前，Afa Annafa曾是广告公司的美术指导，也是一名活跃的模特及演员。不过，她对画画的兴趣自小就开始了。Afa的爸爸是室内设计师，姐姐也热爱艺术，这样的生长环境让她从小就养成拿画笔的习惯。 她从中学时期开始创作一些漫画角色，虽然没有正式修读过绘画课程，但这也让Afa的画风更自然纯粹，“我通常都是自己琢磨着画，凭着感觉 去创作的”Afa 说。最近，我们有幸跟afa讨论了她的创作进展，作品下隐含的主题，还有作为一个slasher对她而言意味着什么。
Neocha: Can you share with us how you approach some of your illustrations and paintings? How do you find inspiration?
Afa: When I’m fully invested and focused on creating something, I easily find myself zoning everything else out. For example, my biological clock might be completely reversed; I won’t eat healthily, nor will I find the time to exercise. But after every intense period of work, I’ll gift myself with a long vacation. I’ll read comics and travel. I feel like these vacations are mandatory and that these breaks contribute to my growth as an artist. When I start working again, I’ll use whatever I might’ve read or seen in my travels as creative concepts; that’s what my workflow is generally like, a system of input and output. When it comes to inspiration, I’m not someone that needs to search high and low. I have plenty of inspiration; most of it comes from books I’ve recently read or media that I’ve consumed. All of these elements are blended together with the message I want to convey. That’s how my inspiration comes about.
Neocha: Your illustrations are often cute in appearance, but below the surface, there are many layered concepts. Can you tell us about some of the concepts behind your The Silent Family series?
Afa: This is my first fully completed series. Many characters inhabit this world, but they’re all different forms of myself. The little girl in a school uniform is another version of me, one that’s filled with insecurities. The little monster represents my dark side; it’s a manifestation of my weaknesses, jealousies, and so on. This can also be thought of as a commentary on society. It’s a battle between my darkness and myself. The girl might lift the headscarf of the devil to see what’s within, they might fight with one each other, or they might try to embrace and accept one another. This work was an exploration of self and is quite meaningful and positive in a way. When you can bravely face your own darkness without wanting to run away, you’ll understand yourself more. It’s a big step forward.
Neocha: 你的画风甜美，但背后的意念却很深沉，跟我们说说创作《The Silent Family》的意念吧?
Afa: 这算是我第一个完整的系列作品。我的画里有很多角色，但他们其实都是我的分身。穿着校服的小女生，是内心混乱不安的我，旁边的小鬼是我的一些阴暗面，比如说懦弱，妒忌等等，也可以延伸到整个社会的氛围。这些是我和自己阴暗面做斗争，有时小女孩会掀开小鬼的头巾想看看里面是什么，他们会互相攻击，也尝试着去拥抱接受。这个作品是我一个自我探索 的过程，积极一点来说它也有很美好的含义，当你可以勇敢面对自己的阴暗面，不再逃避的时候，你会了解自己多一些，也向前迈进了一步。
Neocha: In your new work Erotic Ghost Tales, some little monsters also make appearances. Can you tell a bit more about the concepts behind it?
Afa: I experimented with using paper cut-outs for this new series at my exhibition in 2016. I explore a deeper subject. I wanted to explore desire and sexuality from a female perspective. In our society, it’s considered normal for men to openly discuss sex. But this acceptance doesn’t extend to women who want to talk about sex; people are more critical of this. So for women constrained by our societal construct, they choose to not openly discuss sexuality. This is what I hoped to convey through my work. The monsters I draw have subtle meanings. For example, the three lines behind the geisha and the red ribbon in her hair are all meant to be symbolic. The little monsters that surround her represent yearnings and desires that are finally revealing themselves.
Neocha: 在你的新作品《Erotic Ghost Tales》里面，也出现了一些神秘的小鬼怪，能给我们介绍一下吗?
Afa: 2016展览的新作品我试着用了剪纸的手法，题材在上也更深入了一些，我想从女性的角度 去讲欲望和情色。在我们的社会环境中，男人讨论性是理所当然的，而社会给女性的空间却并不大，如果女性很积极得讨论性这个话题，容易遭人非议。所以女性在社会传统的约束之下，往往对性的表现是偏向含蓄的。这就是我这辑作品想要营造的氛围。我创作的妖怪们是很含蓄的，例如艺妓背后得三条白色线条，她发髻上得粉红色布条，都是隐藏的性符号。还有围绕在她身边的小鬼怪，代表一些欲望的暗涌，它们从黑暗中走出来。
Neocha: As both an illustrator and a model, how would you describe the life of a “slasher” (Slasher is a Cantonese slang that describes a multifaceted person working in different fields)? If you were to dabble in another field of work, what would it be?
Afa: I never planned to go down this path. Many choices in life are unexpected, and we just move with the currents. But I’m quite lucky; many people were willing to give me opportunities all along the way. My decision to study design was influenced by my father. After graduating, I naturally began working in an advertising firm. Being a model wasn’t planned. A modelling agency invited me to audition, so I went in with a mentality of wanting to try something new and possibly earn a little extra money. After being a model for a few years, my income from this became quite steady and it allowed me to quit my job at the ad agency so I could spend more time drawing. It was all unplanned, and I was very fortunate. At times, I felt directionless, but every step forward brought me closer to where I am today. Being a slasher satisfies my desires of wanting to try out and experience different things. If I were to pursue another line of work, I hope to be an author – I would love to write stories that can accompany my illustrations.
Neocha: 身为一名插画师同时也是一位模特，你觉得作为一名slasher（slasher是一个粤语俚语，意思是拥有不同身份不同职位的人）的生活是怎样的? 如果再增加一重身份，你希望会是什么?
Afa: 我反而没有计划过要走这条路，很多生命中的选择都是顺水推舟式的。不过我是很幸运的人，沿途一直有人给我机会。读书的时候选择设计，是受爸爸影响，毕业以后顺理成章去了广 告公司工作。说起做模特也是偶然，大学的时候有人介绍我去参演一些短片，工作以后也有模特经济公司邀请我去试镜。所以我就抱着尝试以及赚外快的心态去做了。几年之后，做模特成为稳定的经济来源，也造就我能辞去广告公司的工作，花更多时间去画画。这些是巧合也是幸运，曾经我以为走的冤枉路，其实一步步支撑我走到现在。Slasher的身份满足到我喜欢尝试不同事物的性格。如果多一重身份，我希望是作家。我想去创作一些故事，并为它们配上插画。