Nikki S. Lee

Hip Hop Project No. 1 2001

After observing particular subcultures and ethnic groups, Nikki S. Lee adopts their general style and attitude through dress, gesture, and posture, and then approaches the group in her new guise. She introduces herself as an artist (though not everyone believes her or takes it seriously), and then spends several weeks participating in the group’s routine activities and social events while a friend or member of the group photographs her with an ordinary automatic “snapshot” camera. Lee maintains control of the final image, however, insofar as she chooses when to ask for a picture and edits what photographs will eventually be displayed.

Hip Hop Project No. 3 2001

From schoolgirl to senior citizen, punk to yuppie, rural white American to urban Hispanic, Lee’s personas traverse age, lifestyle, and culture. Part sociologist and part performance artist, Lee infiltrates these groups so convincingly that in individual photographs it is difficult to distinguish her from the crowd. However, when photographs from the projects are grouped together, it is Lee’s own Korean ethnicity, drawn like a thread through each scenario, which reveals her subtle ruse.

Source: Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago

Exotic Dancer Project No. 4 2000

Lee’s enactments of others exemplify the representational within identity and the ease with which identity can be copied and presented as original. Her taking on of visual styles and gesturing of, for example, urban Blacks and Hispanics reveal how identity is a restricted form of thinking and acting according to fixed norms that can easily be copied.[1]


[1] in Parr, Adrian, The Deleuze Dictionary, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010, p.274.

Skateboarders Project No. 7 2000

Deleuzian identity is not a finalised construction as Butler suggests but always under construction. Rather than being, Deleuze suggests becoming as the basis of ontic existence, closer to the actuality of existence.  Being suggests an essentialised fixed subjectivity becoming offers subjectivity as an ever-evolving, unfixed entity in a constantly constructing state of flux.[1]

Lee in particular exemplifies and exaggerates the dynamism of becoming as she evolves seemingly seamlessly from one minority group member to another, fitting in despite the wrongness of her ethnicity to many of the groups she enacts.


[1] Boundas, Constantin, V., ‘Subjectivity’ in Parr, Adrian, The Deleuze Dictionary, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010, p.274.

The Ohio Project 1999

Awareness of the constructedness and constructing forces of representations exposes the fallacy of essentialized identities and the fruitlessness of the search for ‘prime causes’ underpinning being.[1] Instead our constant becoming is exposed enabling us to challenge epistemological commitments upon which judgements about one another are made, such as stereotyping.[2]  It appears we are moulded by oppositions and hierarchies that are formulated to determine understanding in terms of otherness and by what/who we are or not.[3] Our understanding of self is therefore in terms of certain bodies of knowledge.


[1] Marriner, Robin, ‘Derrida & the Parergon’ in A Companion to Art Theory Oxford: Blackwell, 2004, p.352.

[2] Marriner, Robin, ‘Derrida & the Parergon’ in A Companion to Art Theory Oxford: Blackwell, 2004, p.349.

[3] Marriner, Robin, ‘Derrida & the Parergon’ in A Companion to Art Theory Oxford: Blackwell, 2004, p.353.

From the point of view of the individual subject we know what/who we are through reference to what/who we are not. When related to Lee’s representations of individuals stereotypical of marginalised societies, the art viewing elite recognise the difference between themselves and those represented as participants within the works. The difference rubs against the viewers’ notions of their own identity, they become uncomfortable with their assumptions, reactions and within their own skin creating a sense of incompleteness, transforming their sense of self into something questionable, something other.[1] The presence of another with whom the audience cannot fully identify renders identity precarious and vulnerable. [2]


[1] Bishop, Claire, ‘Antagonism & Relational Aesthetics’ 2004, p.66.

[2] Deleuze Gilles; Difference & Repetition, New York: Continuum International, 2004, p.36.

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