Claudia Chanhoi’s illustrations are firmly rooted in the landscape of the female experience, exploring subjects from sexuality and desire to consent and gender inequality. It’s a far cry from her early years in Hong Kong, where she was brought up in a Catholic household and her free time was mostly taken up with going to Sunday school and doing Impressionist paintings.
Now based back in Hong Kong, the illustrator first became interested in the aesthetic of the female experience after moving to London to study Graphic and Media Design at the London College of Communication. When it came to deciding on her final project, she ended up settling on the thorny subject of the sexual objectification of women.
“It was my very first illustration project and I enjoyed the creative process a lot,” says Chanhoi. “Three years later, I found myself absolutely bored with my then full-time design job and … decided to start an Instagram account, continue my university final project and start posting new work every week.”
It’s a practice that she has clearly managed to get down to a fine art; scroll through her Instagram feed and you’ll be met with a series of polished, Pop-Art inspired illustrations of nipple shaped jellies and penis-esque pickles.
“I think it’s very important to have your distinctive style as an illustrator,” says Chanhoi. “My work is full of bright colours, bums, and pickles; I inject humour into my art a lot just because I am not a serious person.”
As well as adorning everything from silk scarves to mugs, Chanhoi’s distinctive style has also captured the attention of a number of brands and agencies, leading to commissions from both the worlds of media and advertising.
While her colourful creations are guaranteed to get people smirking, the illustrator is keen to stress that beneath the fun and frivolity of her images there is also serious underlying message.
Chanhoi’s belief that a good piece of work should not only be visually interesting but also serve a purpose came to fruition not long after she first began experimenting with her style on Instagram, when one of her illustrations was taken down for violating the platform’s community guidelines because it showed a woman’s vagina.
A couple of days later, she reposted the same image but added a couple of birds to it and the caption ‘birds flying to the moon’. “Surprisingly, it has been smooth sailing from there,” she says. Chanhoi has tested the boundaries of media censorship in a number of projects since then, including her Shame Shame series which features scenes such as a cleverly concealed bum in a table top and a well-positioned wine glass in front of a woman’s nether regions.
“One thing that I find very fascinating is that the media only censors body parts but never sexual content itself, which to me is very contradictory,” says Chanhoi. “Loads of Instagrammers and celebrities share their bodies in a sexually suggestive way all the time and they never have any problems with their being content removed because their body parts are covered. I am not suggesting people should start walking down the street naked, but I wonder if the media censors ‘inappropriate’ and ‘indecent’ sexual content, what makes soft porn [acceptable]?”
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In the Wilderness ???? . Collaboration with @acsvaw on the topic of “Consent 性同意”. This piece will be exhibited at 480.0 Gender & Art Space partnering up with Women Helping Women Hong Kong @_whwhk ????????. Soft opening on 6 July (Sat) from 1pm ???? Come say hi and enjoy some food and drinks if you are in Hong Kong this weekend ???? . We are living in a world where sexual content is heavily saturated and sex has become a necessary activity in our dating culture. How to protect ourselves when no is not enough in the wilderness? #sexualviolence #sexeducation
More recently, Chanhoi has used her illustrations to tackle other important issues such as sexual consent, including a collaboration with Hong Kong’s first sexual violence crisis centre, Rain Lily.
“I always take a light-hearted approach to serious issues such as gender inequality, sexual attitudes, body shaming and slut shaming culture, so that the audience will feel more comfortable and open to share what they think,” she says. “I don’t want my illustrations to look as negative or heavy as the topics already are.”