Christina Lee: Multidisciplinary Feminist Artist
Christina Lee is a multidisciplinary designer and artist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She recently graduated from Carnegie Mellon University’s Fine Arts program and studied Illustration at University Arts London and Graphic Design at the School of Visual Art. First and foremost, she identifies as an illustrator but also identifies as a zine maker, printmaker, animator, and designer. Lee exemplifies what it means to be a modern feminist creative, bringing representation along wit her own style to the art scene.
Lee’s mother recalls her being able to draw a perfect circle at just age 4, a peek into the creative world she would become immersed in. While other children would play outside during lunch, Lee would be in the library, reading an array of books from The Wizard Of Oz to the Harry Potter series. Inspired by these stories, she began to write and draw her own worlds, coming up with new narratives and characters. As she got older, she looked towards other forms of visual storytelling such as animation, film, comics, and music videos. Some of her biggest inspirations include Blue Monday, a comic book series by Chynna Clugston Major, Blankets, a graphic novel by Craig Thompson, and “Aeon Flux,” an experimental animation series by Peter Chung. All of these influences made her practice even more in high school and eventually led her to study art in college.
One of Lee’s favorite projects she has worked on is “Data on Race,” a collaboration with Publicsource, a Pittsburgh based media organization that focuses on critical issues facing the community. Through collaboration with the organization’s Visual Editor, Natasha Khan, she and Natasha they created an accessible and visually interesting way to communicate racial issues in Pittsburgh as part of a larger editorial series “Let’s Talk About Race”. Another personal favorite project of Lee’s is starting PULLPROOF Studio, a membership-based screenprinting studio in Pittsburgh, with her friends. At PULLPROOF, there is screenprinting workspace and a small gallery that rotates monthly. Lee states that starting this with her friends feels like being in a band, but instead of making music, they make art.
Lee touches on a wide array of topics—from identity to the art world to the female gaze-and believes that it has never been better to be a female artist than it is today. I exchanged a few emails with Lee to learn more about her work and backstory.
Alexandria: Who are some influential women you looked up to growing up? (Artists or not!)
Christina: It was rare for me to learn about women who looked like me through the classroom or the news. So seeing Margaret Cho doing stand-up about being Korean-American on TV was a life-changing experience for me.
Margaret Cho is close to my heart because she was the first person I saw on TV talking about the Asian-American experience. She was on a national platform, and yet I could relate to her on almost every single level—growing up with first-generation parents, having severe body dysmorphia, and generally being a complete weirdo. Before “Fresh off the Boat,” Margaret Cho featured the first Asian-American family on tv in her series, “All-American Girl.” She’s a really slept upon comedian, and really paved the way for other Asian-American comedians and writers such as Eddie Huang, Ali Wong, and Alan Yang.
Alexandria: How do you think art and design can impact social change? Are there any exhibits you have come across lately that have this impact?
Christina: Art and design can impact social change by bringing it to the masses. Art and design are more accessible to the general public than a news article or an entire book. Also, art and design have more room to challenge conventional ideas and opinions.
The last exhibit I saw that has this impact was “Forensic Architecture: Towards an Investigative Aesthetics” at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art. Forensic Architecture is a research group based in Goldsmiths University using architectural research methods to investigate human rights abuses. Through this exhibit, they examine how public truth is produced, how it can be used to confront state propaganda, and how to expose forms of state violence. I was the most affected by a re-creation of cell in Saydnaya, an active Syrian torture prison. No journalists or monitoring groups have been able to visit the prison or speak with the prisoners, so Forensic Architecture interviewed survivors to reconstruct a cell in Sadynaya. Forensic Architecture is utilizing creative research methods to expose human rights violations, which is especially important in this day and age of alternative facts.
Alexandria: For your zine “Why Won’t Anybody Listen To Me,” you explored the internet anxiety a lot of young adults relate to. How do you think social media affects young people (particularly young women)?
Christina: Social Media has added a layer of pseudo-reality to our lives. We have the power to curate an image of ourselves to the world. At the same time, we are constantly being watched, and we want to be seen… or do we? Instead of seeing to our daily lives, we manage 2 different ones: one offline, one online. This provokes anxiety in all of us, and it’s not only with young women. The current political climate doesn’t help with the anxiety, either.
Alexandria: Tell us about curating the feminist exhibition “I’M NOT WITH HIM.” How has the #MeToo movement changed art and exhibitions?
Christina: “I’M NOT WITH HIM” was the first show I curated back in June at Future Tenant, a gallery in Downtown Pittsburgh. I wanted to explore the female gaze through female/femme-identifying artists who use untraditional mediums, such as rughooking, embroidery, photography, and zines. I selected 5 different female artists from LA, Pittsburgh, and NYC. I also had a zine library and sold over $500 worth of zines.
I wanted to curate a show like this because of my own growing preference in consuming media that has been written or created by other women/femme-identifying creators. There have been so many instances when I’ve just been so disgusted by what I’ve read because it comes from a strong male POV.
Alexandria: How, if at all, has your identity as an Asian woman been incorporated within or influenced your work?
Christina: I’ve always felt weak my entire life. I was the youngest in my family, and I was bullied at school. I feel as if the stereotype of the “submissive” Asian woman contributed to this feeling of weakness. To counter this, I became loud, aggressive, and strong. You can also see this through my own work and sense of humor. I’m attracted to aggressive patterns and loud colors. I enjoy twisted and abject humor.
I recently visited Korea for the first time in 10 years, and it was very emotional for me. Most of my family lives there, and it was so bittersweet seeing them because even though I haven’t seen them for a while, there is still a linguistic and cultural barrier that inhibits my relationships to them. As a result, I’ve been thinking about creating a body of work that addresses my Korean-American identity more directly. I’ve played around with the idea in my head, but it’s something I’m still wrestling through conceptually. Whatever this body of work looks like or becomes, I’d want it to be authentic and actually good. It’s a complex subject that I’d like to do justice of.
Alexandria: How would you describe feminist art as it is today? What is up and coming? What do you hope to see it take off next?
Christina: I think it’s never been better to be a female artist than it is today. Not to say that the art world isn’t still incredibly sexist, classist, and misogynist, but since #MeToo, the tide is changing, and more people want to learn about artists who look like them or create work that they can relate to on a personal level.