Meet the Artist Who Just Became the Second Filipino to Win a Hugo Award

Likhain, aka Mia Sereno, was recognized as "Best Fan Artist" at the 2019 Hugo Awards in Dublin.
ILLUSTRATOR Likhain (Mia Sereno)

Artist Mia Sereno, who also goes by the pseudonym Likhain, just became the second Filipino Hugo Award winner to ever be recognized by the prestigious literary body. Sereno won “Best Fan Artist” in the 2019 Hugo Awards, which were held during the 77th Worldcon in Dublin on August 18.

The first Filipino to win a Hugo was Michi Torta, the managing editor of Uncanny Magazine, which received the award “Best Semiprozine” in 2016. The two are currently the only Filipinos to have been recognized by the Hugo Awards, the premier literary and art event that acknowledges the achievements of authors, editors, and artists in the science fiction and fantasy (SFF) genre. 

For her prolific portfolio that illustrates the dreams of SFF authors from around the world, Sereno now joins the ranks of George R. R. Martin and Kurt Vonnegut as esteemed Hugo awardees.

Like many world famous awarding bodies, the Hugo Awards has had its fair share of criticism for its lack of cultural diversity as white males once dominated its roster of winners. But recent years have seen a change in the event as the awarding body has grown increasingly open to the stories of minorities and the marginalized. As a woman and a person of color, Sereno is one of the many who are paving the way for cultural diversity in the awarding body, particularly for Filipino SFF creatives.

In her acceptance speech, Sereno spoke partly in Filipino as she directed her words to young Filipino authors and artists around the world: “Nakikita ko kayo. Kailangan namin kayo. Inaabangan namin kayo…Mabuhay ang sining ng pagasa at pangarap, ng tula at alamat at awit, ng kathang-isip at kalayaan. Mabuhay ang ating mga kuwento at ang mga mundo na sama-sama nating linilikha. Mabuhay tayong lahat.”


British Science Fiction Association winning artworks Dragon I and II

Before she hopped on a 20-hour flight to Australia, Esquire Philippines got to talk to the Filipino Hugo Award winner about paving the way for future Filipinos, her Philippine influences, and understanding the growing relevance of fan art. 

On opening doors

Humbled and honored by the opportunity to open doors for Filipinos in the SFF field, Sereno also recognizes the impact that winning a Hugo could have on the greater discourse of cultural and racial inclusivity in the world of art and literature.

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“When I was writing my acceptance speech I decided that it was really important that I speak in Tagalog for some of it, because acknowledging that languages outside English matter—that people outside the white West matter—is pivotal to decentering the conversation of creation from the dominance of Anglophone, white Western media, and to creating more space for works from marginalized people to flourish and be seen,” explained Sereno.

Her Philippine influence 

The Filipino Hugo Award winner credits her mother for introducing her to art and speculative fiction, which has now become a lifelong passion for the artist. Some of her greatest influences come from Filipino artists like Araceli Limcaco-Dans, Vicente Manansala, and Katrina Pallon.

Although she migrated to Australia a few years ago, it was her life in the Philippines that played the biggest role in shaping her identity as an artist.

“I love the dizzying chaos and color of our cities; the way the summer sun pounds against your skull and renders everything eye-searingly bright. I love the trees of UP Diliman and the way plants crawled their leaves and blades over our old buildings. I love the way living things overgrow their boundaries, run rampant, and drown the eye in excess. I love the intensity of our country. There's nothing like it in the world.”

Author-comissioned art for The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard

Photo by Likhain (Mia Sereno).

For "Outfitting the restless heart, or how the sky was made" by Emily Stoddard

Photo by Likhain (Mia Sereno).

Breaking misconceptions of fan works

Thanks to popular culture, fandoms get a bad reputation for being cheesy and obsessive. But in the world of fiction, fan art has been a respected subsection of its field for decades. Fan categories have been around for decades, and in the case of “Best Fan Artist,” the fan category began all the way back in 1967.

“[Fan art] is derivative work that riffs off, builds on, or responds to existing works; basically the creator of fan art uses someone else's creation to make their own. The Organization for Transformative Works, which runs Hugo-awardee Archive of Our Own, calls these kinds of creations ‘transformative,’ which I think is a very beautiful way to look at it,” explained Sereno. “In a certain sense, every time a new piece of fan art is created for an already existing work, the conversation around that work is changed, even if only slightly, by the creation of that fan art.”


For Sereno, the appeal of fan art has always been sharing her work with like-minded communities. Another upside is getting to read unreleased books and evoking reactions from authors whom Sereno creates art for: “The latter really is such a special experience and so the bond between the word and the image is definitely something I want to explore further this year.”

Words of wisdom

Like many young artists in the 21st century, Sereno started out by sharing her work on social media or art sharing sites. But Sereno has come a long way since her days on DeviantArt.

Now a Filipino Hugo Award winner, the artist has a few words of advice for fledgling artists who are still trying to find their style:

“Figure out what you care about, what matters to you, because that will form the core of your approach to art, which is the foundation of your style. It's much the same with art as it is in stories, isn't it?” said Sereno. “Find out what you want to see in the world; the thing that doesn't exist yet, that only you can bring into being.”

What is the Hugo Awards?

The Hugo Awards is the highest recognition given to creative in the science fiction and fantasy genre. Hugo winners over the years include George R.R. Martin, Orson Scott Card, and Kurt Vonnegut. The Hugo Awards currently has 15 categories, of which “Best Fan Artist” was awarded to Mia Sereno in 2019, the second Filipino Hugo Award winner. Editor Michi Trota was the first Filipino Hugo Award winner when her magazine, Uncanny Magazine, won Best Semprozine in 2016.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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