China Underground > Contemporary art in China: Exploring China's Flourishing Art Scene > Reclaiming the Female Body: How Claudia Chanhoi’s Artwork Confronts Gender Norms

Reclaiming the Female Body: How Claudia Chanhoi’s Artwork Confronts Gender Norms

Empowering Sexuality Through Art: Claudia Chanhoi Against Conformity

Claudia Chanhoi is an energetic and vivid illustrator designer who grew up in Hong Kong. Through her illustrations, most of these creations feature women’s body parts, she aims to communicate what is seen as a taboo or a shame in society: women’s sexuality. She also focuses her attention on today’s women’s role. Her purpose has consistently been to promote greater awareness and embrace of sex and sexuality. She wields her art to spark discussions on ‘no-no’ topics, especially around the objectification of women’s bodies. The focus of her art design reflects her ideology. Claudia’s pieces underline that at first look women can seem easily catalogable, looked through a pop art lens and with bubblegum colors, but if the eyes let the flow of the designer move deeper, they can catch years of experience, different levels of curiosity and ways of understanding. This desire to help a full understanding drove her to a partnership with Teen’s Key, a Hong Kong nonprofit that helps women. She is earning funds for Teen’s Key by selling her merchandise featuring her art and is also producing new illustrations for use in a sex education course for the young. She has held solo exhibitions in Beijing, Miami, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and London and has worked with clients such as LELO, LUSH, NBC News, Playboy, JAJA Tequila, and HarperCollins Publishers, just to name a few. She has also been featured in many publications.

Claudia Chanhoi’s official website & Instagram profile

Can you tell us why you’ve decided to be an artist and what drove you? Graphic and illustration design was your first choice? How did you begin your artistic path?

I started painting at the age of 3 I believe. It was the only thing I loved doing and I think I was pretty good at it growing up. I always knew I would be a painter at a very young age and that goal has never changed. I pursued my artistic interests further by attending an Art school where I initially studied Graphic Design as I didn’t know the difference between art and design. Later on, I went to the London College of Communication and studied Graphic and Media Design. My design background marked a significant turning point in my creative approach from traditional oil portraits to more contemporary digital styles.

Illustrator and Designer Who Breaks Through the Boundaries of Imagination

With humour and sarcasm you point to women’s sexuality. What motivated you to choose this theme?

I was working on my university final project and I wanted to address the issue of “sexual objectification of women” because it was what mattered to me the most as a young woman who just entered her womanhood. I created 6 illustrative products, they were “boob milkshake”, “pubic neck pillow”, “leg chopsticks” and a few different ones to mock the idea of using women as sex objects. I don’t think I intentionally “chose” to be humorous and sarcastic but I think this has always been my approach to controversial topics. I don’t want to jump to a conclusion too quickly because I want us to have an open conversation and free thinking with an open heart.

You used the “female gaze” to communicate and create your own style. How has your vision shifted and evolved over the years? – You pictured the most feminine parts of a woman’s body as a series of dishes. What do your illustrations want to communicate? What desire for sexuality are you trying to fully express?

My art has been my true expression of experiencing womanhood. I used to talk about modern dating relationships and female sexuality at the beginning because I was dating around in my younger years. Now, It evolves and matures as I experience my life throughout time from dating different people to being engaged and entering a new page of my life. My art is not only a reminder to stay true to myself, but it also makes me let go of shame around my sexuality and things that I’ve found difficult to talk about, such as sexualisation, worrying about the biological clock and women feeling the need to be more masculine to be taken seriously at work, etc.

Demystifying the female body through art and humor is a process to reclaim women’s sexuality

Have you encountered any stigma in the art world due to the “women’s sexuality theme” of your work? What were the audience reactions when you first started your design?

During the first few years of my career, there were people whom I encountered professionally, assuming that I’d be open to having a sexual relationship with them based on what I do. I think most people might think that I draw vaginas and penises just for fun without any meaning. My ex’s friends always joked about how kinky the sex would be with me just because my art involved sexual topics. And my ex did warn me that I needed to be careful to show my art to people, especially men because they might have a wrong idea about me. I was feeling very not understood and judged at that time. But I always believed that my art was much more than that. There are always taboos around sex and female sexuality. The negative association with sex has been deeply rooted in our culture (although our culture would never exist if sex was never happened). Their reaction was a good reminder that I need to be more open and honest with my art instead of stopping it just because I don’t want to be seen as a “sex addict”. The most fun part of my work is that I get to challenge people’s mindsets and open up conversations around taboo topics.

Do you think the relationship between body and nudity is changing or the female body is still viewed as the light of shame? If sex creates life and pleasure why sex has been seen, from some people, as dirty or vulgar? Is it the private aspect that creates a confusing message?

Sex is a natural and essential part of our human experience, and it should not be viewed as something dirty or vulgar. Social media, activism, and advocacy efforts have also played a role in shifting perceptions and attitudes towards sex. However, The perception of sex as dirty or vulgar can also be attributed to social norms and religious beliefs that have been ingrained in us for generations. Every individual has a different perception of sex based on their experience, background, culture or religious beliefs. Some interpretations portray sex as a temptation or a source of moral weakness, such as rape, infidelity, and addiction, leading to a negative view of sex and the human body.

Claudia is redefining femininity, sexuality, and sex education. She addresses these themes with humor and sarcasm, inspiring in-depth debates and encouraging everyone to start a discourse about them

In the past, the topic of sex was often veiled and not openly discussed. Today, platforms like Netflix, Amazon, and Disney explore sexuality in diverse ways and depict various female body types. Despite this openness, do you believe there is still social pressure for women’s bodies to conform to certain stereotypes?

I am seeing a lot of sexualisation in the media on the contrary. We are now living in a hyper-sexualised society where we tend to mix “sexuality” up with “sexualisation” and this is how we have turned “sexuality” into “an unrealistic pornographic scene”. We are now definitely a lot more open to female sexuality and female bodies thanks to the movements of “sexual liberation of women”. However, we often see young people, especially young women posting racy photos of themselves on social media and claiming their actions as sexual empowerment or “expressing themselves to the fullest”. I do question if the idea of empowerment and liberation is being used as justifications for self-sexualisation and if they are hoping they can get attention, gain validation or even make a profit by self-sexualising themselves… I am not very sure if we are going in the right direction if we want to build a positive attitude towards sexuality and female bodies in an honest and empowering way.

Thinking about nudity: humans are mammals. Looking at other mammalian animals, the judgmental side does not emerge. What is lost in human communication and the look?

In the animal world, nudity is simply a part of life for mammals, and there is no societal or cultural judgment attached to it. I believe animals do not have the same complex social constructions and emotions that humans do.

I have seen that you customised summer-style cartoon bags. How did this project come to life?

That was a collaboration with Jump From Paper. The brief was super simple and straightforward. They asked me to draw anything I wanted on their 2D looking backpacks.

Do you have any plans to combine your design with gadgets or accessories in the near future?

I have made some socks, silk scarves and some T-shirt prints for charities and brand collaborations.

Photos and illustrations courtesy of Claudia Chanhoi

Last Updated on 2024/03/24

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