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An Artists Reflection with Chara Ho

Published on
Jan 12, 2021
Written by
Olivia DeRoche
Published by
Edited by
Lannii Layke

“Art for me, has always been a form of self expression and a way to make myself feel like I exist on this earth. A way to validate my experience and my identity. Not necessarily because I need validation, but because I want to reflect on its effect on me or I want to make sense of the abstract things I may be feeling or the abstract things that are happening around me. I have nothing against people who call themselves an artist. I think it's the most beautiful thing to call yourself an artist, and I think we all are artists in some way, but I never feel worthy of that title or any kind of title. I don’t really identify as an artist.”

These are the sentiments from my dear friend and most qualified artist, Chara Ho, as we catch up from the comfort of our own beds this past Friday. Pondering the ways our art has shifted under the isolating circumstance, we’ve become accustomed to this past season. Draped in humble excellence, Chara is an artist in all aspects of her life. She is someone who practices thoughtfulness in every conversation and has the ability to create new worlds with her drawings and articulation of life's more absurd concepts.

As a lifelong busy bee, this season of stillness brought a lot to the surface, both artistically and personally. Chara describes her experience in quarantine as, “a vacuum of time where my brain was mush. The concept of what my art would evolve into if I had the time, if I had the energy, was all the sudden at the forefront.” In a continuous whirlwind of those who were rising to the occasion and creating with confidence and consistency, we as artists felt the walls close in. In a time riddled with pressure, Chara found the expectation for creativity and work unachievable. As an artist too sweet to brag, I must step in to emphasize that no matter the circumstance, Chara moves through the world with grace and abundance. Even her inability to create or feel worthy of creating was articulated into a lovely re-imagination of childhood wonder. Prompted by the activity of drawing or writing with no intentionality but purely for enjoyment's sake, Chara found herself freely practicing without emphasis on the final product. For her: “It's an expression, it’s unabashed, it's so authentic and raw.” Quarantine provided this opportunity to revisit art without fear of perception.


This return to childlike exploration was met with the introspection of early womanhood resulting in a photo essay entitled ‘Huckleberry'. Huckleberry is a stunning self portrait series of Chara embodying her earlier sentiment, “raw and unabashed”. While Chara has been most comfortable with structure and postured representations of herself in past work, Huckleberry captures fluid almost dance-like phrases in which she explores her body's most natural movements. This photo essay was a response to Sylvia Plath’s novel, The Bell Jar. This book contains an analogy of a woman sitting in a fig tree, seeing all the figs that are ripe and ready to be picked. One is travelling the world, one is a husband and kids, another is a variety of lovers. All these possibilities of a woman’s future resonated with Chara and it was this analogy that inspired Huckleberry.

This photo essay allowed Chara to feel very present with herself. Something that felt distinctive since her return to her childhood home after four years of living in Toronto for university. Her processing of this return came in the form of reimagining her small town, limited by lack of mobility due to lockdown. Lockdown provided Chara with a unique experience, forcing her to breathe beauty and life in what often served as her mundane backdrop out of sheer necessity. She comments that being home feels different and all too much the same. This disparity made room for immense exploration starting with Chara’s love for the vast empty fields that surrounded her. It frustrates her to find herself back at home after all these years and recalls the hilarity of finding herself walking through her hometown with a mannequin arm and camera in hand, “trying desperately to make something”.


This feeling of laziness met by the paralysis, that quarantine has brought on, plagued many in the past months. This resonates with me as I find my art is defined by the doing. I’m an actor when I’m acting, I’m a singer when I’m singing, I’m a writer when I’m writing. But all the sudden, when everything was removed and it was just me in my room for four months, I became the lone maker of my identity. Free from external or circumstantial or environmental definitions, I was rooted in myself separate from my doings. Chara and I are similar in this way. As friends and as artists, we both crave deeper meaning in all aspects of our life and found ourselves reconstructing and evolving our own identities throughout the pandemic. For Chara:

The photo essay served as a response to our wonders. What are you when you are stripped of everything you project onto the world? What remains? Huckleberry sought to understand what was there and I think what remains is self-hatred because that's when you really have to look at yourself and see yourself without. On the flip side of that, it's wonderful. You can see the fruits of your labours and all the skills you have accumulated, the community you have built, and what that says about you. I want to call these things fruits. I think those fruits can be nourishing and I think they can be lethal. In terms of identity, it helped me to work through self-doubt and fear of failure. Before quarantine, perhaps a lot of merit and self-worth was placed on external achievements or accolades or validation. For me, it's a matter of understanding my intrinsic worth and recognizing that my past is real and if nothing else I am a survivor of that and that's great. It really comes down to where your worth is rooted. The journey with art helps me reframe where my self-worth could lie. Something that motivated me to create Huckleberry was the inability to articulate what that feeling was. I don’t know what it was. I think it was a limbo really. It was the Amy March of it all. It was the “I want to be great or nothing.” It’s when you can see what you want but you don’t know how to get there.

As artists, we crave grandeur. Art seems big and stately around us when the creation of art can so often be many small, difficult tasks eventually gathered together. The grandeur is rarely present when artists are in the trenches creating. Chara expressed her inability to get herself back in the trenches to create made her feel inadequate. This feeling became paralysis. Her response to this paralysis is what she calls her “If Nothings”. Chara’s “If Nothings” were options written down on a sticky note intended for days when doing anything at all was just too much. Go for a walk for 5 minutes, write/journal for 5 minutes, doodle for 5 minutes, and play the piano for 5 minutes. These “If Nothings” tricked her brain into rationalizing the approachability of doing something. These very tiny tasks became her motivators. If she couldn’t get out of bed or “summon enough energy to do anything but survive” she was able to tackle one of these five-minute tasks. She describes it as her way of building a house.

If you look at a house you think ‘I could never build anything like that, that's too hard.’ But even building a house becomes approachable if you lay one brick a day. If you have absolutely no energy if nothing, go for a walk for 5 minutes and that can be your brick laid. Eventually, it will build and for me, it’s built into a coping mechanism against tiredness and fear and self-doubt.

A large part of Chara’s creative motivation also comes from the inspiration she gets from other artists. “Chanel Miller and her style very much speaks to me, she draws really cool cartoon monsters and robots. It’s just so unashamed of itself and aside from her incredible art she is just a hero herself and a true inspiration.” As an admirer of Miller and a grateful reader of her beautiful memoir, Know my Name I can’t help but draw similarities between her work and the work of Chara. Both have a keen ability to detangle the complexities of life with effortless artistry. Chara’s doodles bring to life articulations of feelings that encompass much of our mundane everyday lives. She describes herself as a magnet, pulling from everything she interacts with. As she passes through the world, things stick and this collection becomes the pool in which she draws inspiration. It “could be the way a person is sleeping on the subway or a conversation with a loved one. It’s really all relative from day to day.” The excitement of this magnetism for Chara is that what sticks with her varies; it ebbs and flows.

“We all have that internal magnet. Whatever captivates us will stick and we see that in all art. The really beautiful thing about art that speaks to me is that it has the ability to so easily make you feel understood. The very abstract things that you may not be able to articulate or even fully grasp are expressed. It holds a mirror to you, whether it's a poem or an art piece or a photo, it moves you. That's what art is, that's all it needs to be.”

Chara’s photo essay “Huckleberry” was published on She’s Got Wonder and can be found here: http://www.shesgotwonder.com/community/huckleberry

(all photos from She's Got Wonder publication)

For other work by Chara or to reach her for inquiries, visit her website: