WRITING

THE DISRUPT PROJECT: NIKKI S. LEE & TRANSCATEGORICAL IDENTITIES

ABSTRACT

In the series Projects (1997-2001), Nikki S. Lee defies the globalist demand to present and perform predefined cultural conventions by photographing themself assimilated into multiple American social groups. Demonstrating the body’s potential for multiplicity, Lee’s integration into varying social and cultural groups resists the boundaries of social containment projected onto bodies due to assumptions of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, or age. The series questions the social command that the body must represent a naturalisation of a projected identity. Lee’s integration into social groups challenged the programme of identity homogenisation that was emanating from America, fuelled by the multiculturalist discourse. The repetition of Lee’s self-transformations provokes impassioned responses from the audience, with the photographs creating a reflexive dialogue about the conscious act of seeing as a tool of social containment. However, some early critics branded the series as cultural appropriative, challenging the veracity of Lee’s assimilation. Through applying Homi Bhabha’s theory of mimicry and Judith Butler’s assessment of performativity, this article offers a reconsideration of Projects as a decolonial work that subverts the global colonial matrix that commands fixed identities.

This was written for the SOAS Postgraduate Research Journal and was published in Issue 14 in 2022.

The Disrupt Project: Nikki S. Lee & Transcategorical Identities can be read here