After spending her childhood in the Kingdom, a British-born teenager has added colour to the joys and sorrows of Cambodia’s transgender community while exploring the nuances of gender identity
With her debut exhibition, young artist Hannah Miles seeks to depict the beauty and strength of transgender women and highlight the struggles of those who don’t fit society’s prescribed gender norms.
Miles, who is 18 years old and has lived in Cambodia since she was two, became interested in transgender issues two years ago after volunteering with an outreach program for transgender women in Phnom Penh, founded by her father.
From there she became more involved with the transgender community and was allowed backstage to photograph several “ladyboy shows”.
Having grown up in a conservative Christian social milieu, she said the experiences allowed an insight into what had been up until then a totally alien world and also to explore her own identity issues.
In the paintings, Miles said she concentrated on highlighting the women’s faces to show that their identities transcend their physical bodies and explore the idea that gender is not necessarily a binary of male and female.
“I don’t necessarily think that just having a vagina makes you a woman,” she said.
She also used symbolism such as wallpaper patterns, flowers and birds to convey some of the issues they faced, such as stereotyping, complicated sexuality and the joys of free self-expression and coming out.
The eight mixed-media paintings will be accompanied by a series of photographs in which Miles has attempted to defy and obscure gender by using brightly coloured lights.
Transparency opens on Saturday at 6pm at Meta House, #37 Sothearos Boulevard. A video by a local transgender filmmaker will be screened during the event.