Hoo Fan Chon is a Malaysian visual art practitioner based in George Town, Penang. By reframing everyday life with irony and wry humour, his works observe the oscillations and toggles between social classes, the official and the informal, the highbrow and the lowbrow.

︎ email ︎ cv

︎ previous ︎home  ︎ next

Hoo Fan Chon (b. 1982) is a Malaysian visual art practitioner based in George Town, Penang. By reframing everyday life with irony and wry humour, his works observe oscillations and assimilations between social classes, the official and the informal, the highbrow and the lowbrow.

︎ email ︎ cv

I Enjoy Being A Girl 

I Enjoy Being A Girl
Single channel 1920 x 1080 Mpeg-4 video, 37:15 min, 2022

Supported by Ilham Art Show 2022 production grant.



Ilham Art Show 2022
2022 May, Ilham Gallery (Kuala Lumpur MY)

And My   Said
2022 Dec, Blank Canvas (George Town MY)



2022 Sep 10 Freedom Film Fest (Kuala Lumpur, MY)
2022 Nov 12 Panggung Minoritas (Bandung, ID)
2022 Nov 13 Queer Language Club (Yogyojarta, ID)
2022 Nov 16 Indonesia Visual Art Archive (Yogyojarta, ID)
2022 Nov 17 c2o library & collabtive (Surabaya, ID)
2022 Nov 25 Queer Indonesia Archive (Bali, ID)
2022 Nov 26 Freedom Film Fest Penang (George Town, MY)
2022 Nov 29 Queer Arts Festival @ ILGA Asia Conference 2022 (Ho Chi Minh City, VN)
2023 Jan 15 The T Project (Little India, SG)
2023 Mar 31 The Projector, organised by the T Project (Golden Mile Tower, SG)
2023 May 13 Rong Cheng: community studio (Phnom Penh, KH)

This photo-video essay is part of an ongoing project, “Anita & Ava – Photography as a Self-restorative Tool”, which investigates how two childhood friends explored gender identity through photography as they transitioned into adulthood. I originally found a series of photographic portraits of the late Ava Leong in an antique shop in Penang. These portraits, taken in the 1950s–60s, represented her self-restorative process, transforming from an adolescent boy into a woman. After contacting her surviving lifelong friend, Anita, these collection was supplemented by a series of interviews with Anita to further contextualise the photographs. Anita's voice is the foundation of this essay, juxtaposed against a selection from this collection. Their journeys of self-discovery unfold through studio photography and a hidden world of social activities, such as Anita’s stage life as a woman impersonator, independent of her work as a school lab technician. These photographs symbolise a time when they, together with their peers from the transgendered community, were allowed to explore their sense of self while contributing to a lively and cosmopolitan artistic and entertainment culture.


Anita’s Story

For those who visited ILHAM Gallery during the pandemic when Bayangnya itu Timbul Tenggelam: Photographic Cultures in Malaysia became the longest-running exhibition at the gallery, you may already be familiar with some of Hoo Fan Chon’s work. Fan Chon is an artist and curator based in George Town, Penang, who, along with Simon Soon and K. Azril Ismail, co-curated that exhibition. A focal point of his curation in that exhibition was centred on a group of one hundred and sixteen studio-portrait photographs, the majority of which were discovered in an antique store in George Town in 2013. These photographs were of Ava Leong, a trans woman from Penang, identified by Fan Chon’s friend in 2018. At the Bayangnya exhibition, Fan Chon presented Ava’s photographs in a way that chronologised her transition. In his thirty seven minute photo-video essay, I Enjoy Being a Girl, Fan Chon repurposes Ava’s photographs in a digital format. These images, though fleeting within the nature of the new medium, are recontextualised by the memories recounted by Ava’s best childhood friend, Anita.

When asked about his choice to present the work in the format of a video, Fan Chon replied, “I think it wasn’t a conscious choice... I felt like there’s a lot more that the interviews could say than the photos after the Bayangnya show. There’s just something about the voice — I wanted people to listen to her, and there’s something quite fascinating about people telling their stories. So the video essay was a way to force myself to edit and organise all the interviews I had with her, to try to make sense and internalise all these stories to present it in a more structural format. I hope people who watched that photo video essay will get a sense of her growing-up experience, the friendships, the tensions... I feel there’s something very powerful about the human voice, and you can really feel the warmth and nuanced emotions. Even though they were best friends, there was a bit of tension in this friendship. Not everyone can say they’ve known someone for 70 years. This was the one friendship that I really wanted to celebrate in the video essay as well.”

Fan Chon’s own friendship with Anita began in 2018, a few months after Ava Leong had passed. He was introduced to her by the same friend who identified Ava in the photographs five years after they were found. From 2018 to 2019, Fan Chon conducted a series of ten in-person interviews with Anita. Throughout our own discussion about the work, Fan Chon was self-aware about whether he had any right to show Ava’s photographs in the first place, but Anita’s support gave him the confidence to express his research through art. He notes, “I just think that I was really lucky to be able to meet Anita and be her friend. And that was important to me. I wouldn’t say that I had the artistic license to comment on these photographs, but she gave me the confidence to want to say something. Otherwise, I would have felt that I had no right to show these photos.” This support seemed to be confirmed when she won the audience over at Fan Chon’s sharing session at the 2018 Obscura Festival in George Town, by whipping out her signature move, the splits. She was eighty-four at the time.

The recordings from these conversational interviews formed the backbone of Fan Chon’s work, I Enjoy Being a Girl, in which Anita shares her past experiences as a technician in a physics laboratory, a member of the female imperson- ator group known as the The Wax Follies, and a friend of Ava Leong. Four seemingly abstract videos shot by the artist are interwoven between the photographs and source videos that inspired Anita’s musical numbers. Altogether, they provide a visual reflection of Anita’s commentary.

For example, the story about stolen convex lenses being used to pluck out facial hair is accompanied by a shot of an ambiguously masculine silicone face mask, which mirrors the action. Fan Chon noted that his “intention was more along the lines of ‘it’s not easy to be beautiful. It’s a lot of work’. ... I didn’t want to introduce another face because there’s already so many names and subjects in the video, so I just used a silicone face that I bought from Shopee. The process of putting the hair in first before I could pull it out was so much work.”

Fan Chon notes that he had to adapt his questioning process during their interviews. “In the beginning, I was really stupid, asking her academic questions like ‘What is photography to you?’ And she gave me a line or two... So later on, I had to tune in a bit more, because I wasn’t really speaking her language. I wasn’t talking about her dresses. I wasn’t talking about her performances... So in the last few interviews, when I was playing all these YouTube clips to her, those seemed to really animate her. That was what she wanted to talk about. So that’s how I got this material.”

These YouTube clips of the musical numbers she hadperformed as part of The Wax Follies are shown at points in the video piece when Anita would sing along to the lyrics while critiquing the stars who originally performed them andclarifying what she had done differently in her own renditions. These include Anita Sarawak’s version of P. Ramlee’s “Dengar Ini Cerita” (Gala Seni Serumpun, 2007), “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” (Gypsy, 1962), and Nancy Kwan’s “I Enjoy Being a Girl” (Flower Drum Song, 1961).

The video concludes with Anita singing along to the last track, which also forms the title of the video essay. Fan Chon decided to frame the subtitles as karaoke lyrics at the end of the piece and noted: “In the beginning I was trying very hard to make her sing. She was very reluctant because she coughs a lot. I’m sure you can hear it in the interview; her voice wasn’t her best. I wasn’t expecting her to sing, so I was just playing different songs that she used to perform before. And then she sang along to the last one in a kind of lullaby sort of way. The song was ‘I Enjoy Being a Girl’. When I heard that I thought, ‘This is it.’ This song defines the entire project for me.”

Text by Khat Mirzan (from Ilham Art Show 2022 exhibition catalogue)

︎ previous ︎ home  ︎ next
© Hoo Fan Chon