A Letter to Mother

By Naresh Subhash

Ezzam and his mother.

The bond between mother and child is one that through the ages has become as exclusive and sacred to humanity.

My mother and I were never close, until the moment I left the country to create a man of myself. Suddenly, I found that our relationship evolved into one that surpassed the childishness of youth, it is as if a veil of arrogance and emotional insecurity lifted.

She’s perhaps the strongest cheerleader one could ever have, in fact she has always been one.

You see, my mother was not only the sole breadwinner of the family, she is and will always be the rock that my sister and I would swim to whenever our boats capsized. Perhaps it was her military background or perhaps it’s her innate ability to be a mother. Regardless, she did well.

When I first met Ezzam Rahman, I knew him as the phenomenally talented Singaporean artist whose work I simply adored. His fiery dedication to his art, as well as genius sense of material that drew me to his inescapable artistic gaze.

His latest work “Skin” is a perhaps better described as a research into reinvention and re-appropriation. Naturally, his material of choice could only be skin. Using callouses created from wearing flip flops, Ezzam expertly slices the excess skin and adds them to the his “harvested” material. He later sculpts them into fragile forms of animals and fetuses displaying them in a glass jars. This signature work, has been exhibited in the Singapore Art Museum as well as other reputable locations within Southeast Asia. A truly awe inspiring artist whose dedication to his craft and design is perhaps a silent scream into a decaying art culture in Singapore.

However, this profile isn’t about his larger than life talent. I sought to understand the core of his talent, and through this exploration found truths that began to reinvent my personal appreciation of who I was as an individual.

Over the time we spent together, I met the most sweetest and truly regal individual I’ve ever met. Madam Rosnah Ibrahim, like my mother, is a single parent whose life was always centered around creating a home for her three boys. Aside from being a mother, she was in every way an inspiration to her growing son Ezzam Rahman. Once, Ezzam had asked her if she “regretted not seeing the world”, to that she answered, “Why should I…”.

My lecturer in university, who happened to be gay, commented once that gay men become their mothers at a certain age. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you meet Ezzam and his mother, the pair share the same passion for sarcasm and quick wit, which at some point could be endearing or you could find yourself the center of their conversation.

A dedicated son, he often refers to his mother as the rock in his life. Mother and son would spend countless hours talking, poking fun at each other or watch television, which coincidently is both their favourite pastime.

Shortly before leaving Singapore, I sat down with Ezzam to truly understand the core of his craft. Inevitably, we both came to a conclusion that it was his mother who nurtured his creativity – a revelation though had once crossed his mind but was during our hour long conversation that we truly appreciated his mother’s contribution to his creative genius.

Both Ezzam’s parents worked in jobs that required them to have craft like skills, his father was a technician and his mother a seamstress and a cook. Naturally, his older brother would take on his father’s skills and became a skilled technician while his younger brother would be go on to be a pastry chef.

Ezzam, the middle child would trail his mother through the house and never leaving her side.

Rosnah would have to work shifts to make ends meet. She would get her boys to try on the garments she created and make appropriate alterations. He recalls never having any toys, instead to keep her child occupied Rosnah would give her child forks, spoons, ice cream sticks and fabric to play with. In response, Ezzam would create puppets from his found material and imagine they were characters in a alternate universe.

Unknown to her, she planted the seeds to creating the quirky natured budding artist.

Initially, mother and son were at odds when Ezzam first approached his mother wanting to be an artist. Though, today she still has problems truly understanding what her son does for a living. Ezzam’s success and position as a part time lecturer at the local arts college allowed her to accept her son the artist. As a young woman, Rosnah grew up in a Singapore that shunned the arts, a real occupation was once defined as technical education or business studies. As such, it comes as no surprise that the older generation of the populace who essentially were subject to this social construct would see anything other than the former as a waste of time.

I remember having been spat on the face by my grandfather when I first told him I was going into the arts forgoing a double degree in political science and literature.

Regardless of race, language or religion – a farce. As a minority like Ezzam, we are acutely aware that everyday we have an innate responsibility to break racial and social stereotypes that could serve as challenges in gaining any form of reputable career options. As such, it comes as no shock that our mothers worry on a constant and sometimes become the necessary evils in our lives.

On hindsight, what we may seem as “proving them (our mothers) wrong” is perhaps actually our struggle to proving ourselves in a community where racial divisions exist just below the surface of a sparkling shiny nation.

Today, Ezzam’s accomplishments in the art scene in Singapore and internationally could be seen as the result of his commitment to his craft. But as the adage goes “ behind every successful man, is a woman”, naturally it’s our Mothers who’ve been the silent reasons to why we do what we do as men today.  

Like Rosnah, my mother was not a writer, artist or anything “creative”. As a mother she gave us the inspiration and instilled within us the confidence to grow a pair and prove ourselves to a world that is very much different from the world they grew up in. We can now only be ambassadors to these great women.

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