This Kiwi Artist's Warrior-Vixen Critiques the Portrayal of Women in Virtual Spaces
Welcome to Korean-New Zealander Hye Rim Lee's fantasyland.
A bright pink bunny sits wearing a glossy crown. A pink dragon curls up on a box with a strawberry in its mouth, light shimmering through its scales like it’s made of glass. A woman, wearing a leather suit and bunny ears, sits on a strawberry. Her eyes are huge and her lips are bright red. Her leg is wrapped around the stalk like it's a pole, with her high‐heeled feet dangling in front of us. Meet TOKI, the lead character in the 3D‐animated images of Hye Rim Lee, a Korean‐New Zealand artist finding success on an international level. Lee has exhibited in over 200 shows worldwide, but right now, until the 14th of this month, you'll find a selection of her work on display in Auckland's Freyberg Square as part of Art Ache / Artweek.
As well as making work that’s “rooted in the challenges facing the community of Asian diaspora,” and exploring “the experience of migration,” Lee uses her 3D animations to examine how women are represented in virtual spaces. “My 3D‐animation project is a fantasyland where dream and reality mix. It speaks to the manipulation and perception of female sexual identity worldwide and virtualised images of women.”
Lee seeks to create a nostalgic paradise, mingling the world of her childhood with an inorganic cyber world of fantasy, dream and virtual relationships. She’s building a fictional world around her own myths, using “symbols of Asian identity and culture,” familiar virtual iconography, and TOKI, a “highly stylised curvaceous, warrior‐cum‐vixen” to critique virtual worlds.
Conceived in 2002, TOKI parodies the idealised female forms found in “Asian manga and anime culture, computer gaming and cyberculture,” and her name—Korean for rabbit—brings to mind both the innocence of childhood pets and Playboy bunnies. The relationship between sexuality and innocence, reality and fantasy, western and eastern, are all key themes in Lee’s work.
Virtual worlds are often fantasies constructed by white men, and Lee examines the potentially problematic ways they influence us, all the while keeping it personal. “My work is an unnerving mix of cutesy, saccharine imagery and sexual undertones. My images insert fantastical narratives from my childhood fantasies into a computer generated Eden-like space," Lee says.