Claudia Chanhoi, a Hong Kong-born and U.S.-based artist, says most of her creations feature women’s body parts but aren’t only about women’s sexual desire. They also represent the artist herself, a modern straight woman.

But what do these illustrations aim to communicate?

Non-reproductive Sex

Sex, a veiled and silenced word, traditionally connotes privacy, shame, even filth. But just because it’s silenced, does that mean it doesn’t exist?

Feeling Detached From The Body

Coconut Summer

Chanhoi was raised in Hong Kong by devout Catholic parents. As a child, she attended a very traditional all-girls Catholic school where she was taught that female sexuality should be passive and vulnerable. “Women couldn’t really express sexual desire – doing so would be shameful and wrong,” she recalls. Back then, it didn’t even occur to her that sex could come before marriage or should happen outside of procreation. In her mind, sex was only for reproduction. “Honestly, at the time, I didn’t really think much about it, since I was still too young to understand what sexuality and sex actually meant,” Chanhoi says. “Once I got a bit older and entered puberty, people around me started making comments about my appearance. […] It seemed like it was a woman’s job to be sexually appealing, and to uphold all those standards of beauty.”

Vag 03

Looking back now, she says, “I was confused, and I always felt I wasn’t good enough to meet society’s expectations of how women should look or how they should behave.”

Perhaps that’s when she started asking questions about gender inequality and women’s roles. “Even though I was taught that women shouldn’t display their sexuality, from my own experience, I’d say society uses female bodies as sex objects. Women have never really had full ownership or control over their bodies.”

Sex Tablets?

In 2013, in her last year at the London College of Communication, Chanhoi started a final project titled The Sexual Objectification of Women. Three years later, still fascinated by feminism and what it means to be a woman in modern society, she picked the project back up with the addition of new illustrations. “Most of my work is created purely from my own experiences. I see this as a visual journal, a message to share, a joke,” she says. “Of course, these illustrations go far beyond the original topic.”

Bad Medicine

The subjects of Chanhoi’s drawings are often based on more than everyday objects. “Once, while recovering from the flu, I had to take different drugs every day. Staring at those pills, I suddenly began to wonder: if loneliness is a sort of illness, might casual sex be a short-term treatment? That’s how I created ‘Bad Medicine: Sex Tablets.’”

Isolation Room

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Loneliness Is An Infectious Disease

For Chanhoi, art is her best means of connecting with people and telling stories. She believes that the message or concept behind the image is crucial. In a world where everything moves quickly, people can always forget a beautiful image. For a work to be really memorable and irreplaceable, it has to say something meaningful. “I hope people can relate to my art and understand the thinking behind it, and not just see it as a bunch of images with nipples and genitals,” she adds.

Shifting Power Dynamics

Chanhoi began to see her project as a potential platform for expression and a way of better understanding herself and her own sexuality. She was struck by how celebrities like Rihanna and Beyoncé, as strong, independent women, used their sex appeal to celebrate feminine sexuality and proclaim their power over men. This insight upended Chanhoi’s whole concept of sexual power, a shift she found liberating and fascinating.

To Love Your Body To Love Somebody

Plum Double

“Generally speaking, I think women have more sexual power than men, even though I’m a heterosexual woman,” says Chanhoi. “For such a long time throughout history, women’s bodies have been sexualized and taken away from them. Now women can be as sexual as we like, and can freely express our desires, without being called out or rejected.”

Chanhoi enjoys being a woman in today’s society, but she recognizes it’s not easy. Women are often unfairly put into different boxes: attractive or ugly, single or taken, married or unmarried. “You can even be called a prude and a slut at the same time, depending on who’s doing the judging. I can’t sum up how society sees women because there are too many rules women are asked to follow. Even women treat other women very harshly,” she adds. “What I can say is that modern women are more empowered to have a voice than ever before, and that voice will always be heard.”

Sexy Back 01

Fantasy Room

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