JeeYeun Lee

JeeYeun Lee / Chicago, IL


JeeYeun Lee is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and activist based in Chicago, whose practice explores place, labor, language, colonization, and related social issues. She uses both research and intuition to reveal dynamics of power and connection, looking at systemic violences and their histories as well as what exceeds and escapes them. She has worked with social justice and community-based organizations for over twenty-five years in immigrant rights, economic justice, LGBTQ issues, and domestic violence. She holds an M.F.A. in Fiber from Cranbrook Academy of Art, M.A. in Ethnic Studies from University of California at Berkeley, and B.A. in Linguistics from Stanford University.


My project focused on the question of what it means to be an immigrant from a formerly colonized country now participating in the colonization of other peoples on the North American continent. I was interested in Santa Fe as a seat of colonizing power since its founding as a settler town in 1610, first as an outpost of colonial New Spain, then as part of Mexico, then as a territory of the U.S., and finally as the capital of the state of New Mexico.

Since my work is based on deep learning about place, three months was hardly sufficient but it was a start. I learned as much as I could through visits to institutions (museums and libraries), meetings with Santa Fe residents/artists/activists, and trips to pueblos, reservations, and historical sites in New Mexico. I also took a Navajo language class in Albuquerque.

I tried various performative gestures — sitting in the Santa Fe plaza with a sign asking people how they felt about being on native land; being a tourist wearing a hanbok (Korean traditional dress) made of denim (signaling settler/immigrant/Korean status). I also conducted long walks down the two most significant roads of colonization – El Camino Real and the Santa Fe Trail.

I also got to think through what my practice itself looks like. I had just graduated from an MFA program, so the timing of the residency was great for working out what my practice can look like outside of a school context: how to do research, make contacts, build new relationships, identify potential projects.

We all always exist in specific places imbued with specific histories soaked in life and death, joy and violence. Most of the time we are encouraged to not pay attention to such things, but they are always there. I felt deeply grateful to have the chance to be in and notice this specific place now called Santa Fe, New Mexico, U.S.A.

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