Chang-Jin Lee is a Korean-born visual artist and lives in New York City. Her multicultural background and experiences are reflected in her investigations of diverse cultural and social issues. Her artworks deal with subjects that include “comfort women,” 9/11, gender, identity, individualism, sweatshops and globalism, North Korea and nationalism, and spirituality.
“COMFORT WOMEN WANTED” and “Re-creation of a Military Comfort Station” bring to light the memory of 200,000 young women, referred to as “comfort women,” who were systematically exploited as sex slaves in Asia during World War II, and increase awareness of sexual violence against women during wartime. The projects are based on her interviews with survivors in 7 different countries, including Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesian, Filipino, and Dutch “comfort women” survivors, and a former Japanese soldier from WWII.
Presented nationally and internationally including at The Incheon Women Artists’ Biennale (Korea), The Comfort Women Museum (Taiwan), The Kunstmuseum Bonn (Germany), The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History (Korea), The Museum of Sex (New York), 1a Space Gallery (Hong Kong), The State Museum of Gulag (Russia), Hauser & Wirth Gallery (New York), Spaces Gallery (Cleveland), The Boston Center for the Arts (Boston), The Charles Wang Center (New York), George Mason University Gallery (Washington DC), Glendale Central Library (CA), and Wood Street Galleries (Pittsburgh), among many. Public Art throughout New York City including in Times Square, Lincoln Center, and Chelsea – in collaboration with The NYC Department of Transportation’s Urban Art Program.
Supported by The New York State Council on the Arts Grant, The Asian Cultural Council Fellowship, The Asian Women Giving Circle Grant, The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s MCAF, The New York Foundation for the Arts Fiscal Sponsorship, The Korean Ministry of Gender Equality Award, and The Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant.
Reviewed including in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Art Asia Pacific, Dazed & Confused London Magazine, The BBC, NPR, and KBS TV News.
“Floating Echo,” presented at Socrates Sculpture Park (New York, 2012), is a transparent inflatable Buddha floating on the East River. It was inspired by Lee’s visits to Buddhist temples in Korea and Zen gardens in Japan. The clear giant plastic sculpture floats on the surface of the water like an invisible being. Through the sculpture one can see the nature, landscape and the architectural surroundings. Its subtle presence embraces and reflects the environment, both natural and man-made. It is seemingly present and absent at the same time.
A large-scale public art project, “HOMELAND SECURITY GARDEN” presented at The World Financial Center Winter Garden (New York City, 2005), in conjunction with The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s “What Comes After: Cities, Art and Recovery,” investigates political and psychological in/security in the post 9/11 world. The World Financial Center Winter Garden was destroyed during the 9/11 attacks in NYC, 2001, and has rebuilt. This site has both an important architectural and historical significance. It is a giant artificial maze that consists of 200 “Emergency Kits” created from donated objects that people considered essential to survive a crisis. Individuals from many different religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic communities around New York , including people from Asian, Muslim, African American, Jewish and Latino communities, contributed personal items, both intimate and practical. These “Emergency Kits” are then displayed on Astroturf covered pedestals in the structure of a maze or garden. The “garden” evokes a traditional sense of home and place while the “maze” represents the difficulties of navigating the world’s current complexities.
“Dear Leader,” exhibited at Franconia Sculpture Park (2011), is an audio, mixed media sculpture exploring the relationship between ancient Confucian tradition and modern Communist rule in contemporary North Korean society.Kim Jung Il, known to his people as “Dear Leader,” is the Supreme Leader of North Korea. The annual Arirang Festival celebrates Kim Jung Il’s almost godlike status, and promotes North Korean political propaganda and communist ideology. This festival involves 100,000 performers and is the largest gymnastic event on the planet. From the traditional and isolated point of view of rural North Koreans, the values of Confucianism directly support a kind of caste system and rigid traditional hierarchy with the King as demigod figure at the top – the father and the protector of the Nation.The audio is of “Arirang,” the most beloved Korean traditional song, and a propaganda song of “Kim Jung Il.”
An interactive installation “DNA : Making A Mark,” exhibited at The Queens Museum of Art (New York, 2002), celebrates “individualism and identity” in light of recent genetic advances. Over a thousand people are invited to chew gum (One method of DNA testing), then stick it in plastic grids on the wall, and sign their names – thus encoding DNA, fingerprint, personal expressions, and signature all at once. Over time, the grids transform into a large gestural abstraction which encodes individuality and marks- a collective portrait of people’s personal expressions.
“24/7,” an installation shown at The Asian American Arts Centre (New York, 2002), comments on the nature of the sweatshop and the exploitive aspects of globalization. This installation involves electric sewing machines which run continuously, sewing spools of multicolored thread onto endlessly unraveling rolls of toilet paper filling the installation space. The continuous motion performed by the machines is both repetitive and compulsive. Yet the results are fragile, colorful and infinite in their variety, much like the delicate hand crafted beauty of the work performed in sweatshops.