Figure 1: Nikki Lee, taken from The Hiphop project (2001)
Nikki Lee is a Korean born American artist who has explored the subject of people and their identity. “Acting different depending on who is with us is something that we all do.” (Bright, 2011:40) In her Projects (1997-2001) Nikki Lee explored this idea of shifting identity by transforming her persona to join a series of different ethnic and sub-cultural groups and photographing the results.
Lee completely transforms her appearance and persona to fit in with the different groups who each know that Lee is an artist and seemingly welcome her into their space. To gain maximum authenticity and so as not to disrupt her assimilation Lee captures the experience by having members of the group take holiday snap-like pictures that she herself directs whilst using a basic low-tech camera.
Nikki Lee originally from a small Korean village was brought up on western popular culture digested through mass media channels before moving to America in 1994 to study fashion in New York and the influences of her background can be seen in her work. In making Projects Nikki Lee has assumed numerous identities such as the Hispanic, Hiphop, Punk, Skateboarder, Tourist, Schoolgirl and Yuppie.
I find her work interesting as an exploration into image and identity and how this works to differentiate people but also how it integrates people. I think Lee’s work asks us why we choose to integrate. Do we need to? What would happen if we did n’t? Remembering that Nikki Lee was actually born Lee Seung-Hee but chose an American sounding name as soon as she arrived as a Korean immigrant in New York.
Again by understanding her background in fashion and advertising I can see how Lee might be tempted to pose another question regarding the depth and permanence of identity especially in the light of the way that Lee was able to change hers so frequently and with such relative ease.
Is the work of Nikki Lee merely voyeuristic or exploitative? What does she seek to prove by integrating with the group? I believe that by understanding Nikki Lee’s personal journey we can tangibly see her personal interest in this field.
I also believe that her work is valuable in so much that it reflects on people and modern society (values) by revealing the lengths that people (have to) go to in order to fit in to what is a superficial socially constructed reality. I think Lee starts to help us make the conclusion that on many levels people are or at least can be the same.
I also looked at a later body of work made by Nikki Lee called Parts (2002-2005) which explores people in relationship to others, again an interesting self-portraiture project which delves into the human psyche and how this collides with societal needs and values.
Bright, S (2011) Art Photography Now London: Thames and Hudson Ltd
The Creator’s Project (2011) Kyuhee Baik. AT:
(Accessed on 5 July 2016)
Figure 1 Taken from The Hiphop project 2001
(accessed 5 July 2016)