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By August 5, 2019Alam (Tak) Nyata

A story of Ritual, Images and Words

Image by Cheryl Hoffmann/Words by Pauline Fan

I have a memory of being suspended in the space before the morning light, enfolded in the embrace of another realm. Pauline and I were encircled by the final rites of a Kuda Kepang ritual. It was a time of closing, of departure, but we lingered, lost in the wisps of kemenyan, in the cracks of the whip, in the last sensations of transformation. We were aware of being translucent, almost invisible, and at the same time, very present.

It was then that our Alam (Tak) Nyata project was crystalized.  We had years of experiences with Kuda Kepang rituals and strong connections to the performers. I had thousands of images in my catalogue and Pauline had been writing what started as a short story but was soon a novella. Alam (Tak) Nyata emerged from that moment, in the kampung in Parit Raja, when we felt the blurred lines between what was seen and what was unseen, what existed in the realm of other worldliness, perceived but not defined.  

Image by Cheryl Hoffmann/Words by Pauline Fan

When Obscura Festival of Photography announced their open call with the theme Subcultures, Pauline and I simultaneously saw it as an opportunity to put the bodies of work together. The submission flowed easily. The images and the words intertwined, as was their destiny.

Image by Cheryl Hoffmann/Words by Pauline Fan

Our art has become layered, developed an interdependency. The rituals that inspire Pauline’s poetry and my image making are in turn enriched when the performers see how others see them. With their confidence raised in their own art form, the rituals become more evocative and alluring, inspiring us and shaping our perceptions.


Author Cheryl

Rarely without my camera, I am inspired by energy in a crowd, the peacefulness of light, and the intensity of spirit. Based in Malaysia, I photograph rituals and traditions, ceremonies and celebrations, beliefs and ideas.

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