Untitled Migrant Ship Re-creation Project, 2009 – present, (in progress)
An ongoing archive of material generated from this in-progress project, including sketches, 3D renders, work documentation, installation views, research, and other related ephemera.
In 2009, the artist began a re-creation of a press image depicting the arrival of the Sri Lankan migrant ship, the MV Ocean Lady at the west coast of Canada. This work was realized in many different forms, but most notably as a 3D re-creation and 3D printed models. In addition to photographs, drawings, paintings and other works, there is a web archive of this project.
It is with this project that the artist began looking at how migration has been depicted in media and in history. This subject concerns the complexities and challenges of immigration and its history in Canada, some of which were experienced directly by the artist’s family and friends.
At the moment, numerous people from Africa and the Middle East are attempting to reach Europe by sea. Many Europeans view this as problematic, leading to a strong rise in nationalism and anti-immigration rhetoric and policy. These attitudes also exist closer to home: in 2009 and 2010, two ships arrived at the coast of BC carrying Tamil asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka. Canadian authorities seized these ships and detained their crew and passengers. There has been massive public debate and speculation over the legality of their refugee claims and the practice of human smuggling, and a climate of xenophobia has developed amidst accusations of immigration “queue-jumping” and fears of terrorism. This has been echoed many times in Canada’s history by the arrival of: Fujianese migrants in 1999, Jewish Europeans on the MS St. Louis in 1939 and Sikhs on the SS Komagata Maru in 1914. And it is difficult to separate this history from that of slavery and colonialization.
Beginning in 2009, the artist began looking critically at found media and historical images, particularly those depicting protest and migration, with the intention of recreating, transforming, and expanding them through interdisciplinary forms such as sculpture, mixed media, and paintings. Staring with the project, Migrant Ship Re-Creation, this also took the form of several related projects: Migrant Portraits, Black Bloc (Black Blot), Black Bloc Abstraction (Diptych), Burning Flag (after Jyllands-Posten)
In contrast to popular, ubiquitous images of revolution and provocation (such as Alberto Korda’s portrait of Che Guevara, or the graffiti works of Banksy), the found press images that artist refers to are markedly non-iconic, from nameless and faceless Black Bloc protesters to migrants whose identities have been obscured by the press. Lee approaches these images from a perspective of speculation, creating artworks that either reconstruct or further obscure the subjects. This dual process amplifies the missing details and facts that are not included in the original press images or their accompanying news stories, pointing to an inherent confusion or lack of clarity surrounding the actual events.
These works include large-scale black and white paintings where silhouettes of marching Black Bloc protesters have been repeated in a motif that borders on abstraction; earth-toned, classical style oil portraits of the same migrants created in composite from blurry or pixelated press images and online searches; and a video that recreates the burning of a Danish flag, which was originally enacted by protesters in response to anti-Muslim cartoons that were published in Denmark. The works engage in a dialogue with news media images of protest, the interpretation of these images, their bias and their influence.
Phoropter Studies is a series of photo-collage works made using studies of vintage optometry instruments to explore vision and optics. The artist, who has worn glasses for most of his life, began collecting phoropters, a device used by optometrists to measure vision. The works have a disorienting three-dimensional quality, which was further explored in the sculpture.
photo-collage, 15 images, edition of 3, 10.25 x 10.25 inches