Jason Lewis' Sensory Pleasures: Sight with Maia Ruth Lee

April 7, 2010

Jason Lewis is an NYC-based photographer/filmmaker profiles five creatives, with each blog representing one of the five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. Jason spent time with each individual photographing and/or collaborating, and got to know each on a creative level. Here, he introduces Maia Ruth Lee.

In May of 2008 I took my first flight to South Korea to document professional BBoys from 16 different countries, all of whom were there to compete in one of the world’s largest BBoy tournaments. One full week with hundreds of super-athletic dudes, it was an amazing experience but by its end I was of course dying to see at least one female! Boy did I luck out; I was introduced to someone who is not only beautiful but incredibly talented and a creative friendship was born.

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Maia Ruth Lee is a Korean artist who lived in Kathmandu for 13 years of her childhood. She was exposed to Buddhist Thangka Art and Mithila art, a Southern Nepali folk art, and incorporates these styles into her work with various oriental styles such as Korean traditional paintings and Japanese woodblocks.

In 2006, with creative help from mutual friends Heo Jihyun & Jaewon Yun, she launched “Chill,” an artist collective primarily focused on independent publications based in Seoul. “Chillzine” was born and I was fortunate enough to contribute photography for their 4th issue while I was visiting in 2008. This remains one of my favorite shoots to date, you can check it and others out on the Chillzine website

For the past year, Maia was busy as a graphic designer at Fabrica, a communication research center founded by Luciano Benetton and Oliviero Toscani in Italy. Currently she is working in Nepal. She is also preparing for her first solo exhibition in Kathmandu in May and just released her first full-length album with her 2-person band Clarity Kaufmann on iTunes called “Careless”! This last endeavor doesn’t help my category of “sight” but how can you keep an artist from expanding his or her horizons?

This blog gave me a great excuse to initiate some collaborations, so I asked Maia to reinterpret some of my photographs. Love, love love…

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Why did you choose art as a medium for your self-expression?
If I was born again I would choose writing as my form of self-expression, and master it from an early age, but in this life I wasn’t so lucky.

What’s the story behind Chillzine? How did all of you and your Chillzine collaborators cross paths?
Chillzine was the best project I’ve been involved in. Three girls (Jaewon, Heojih and myself) met at art uni, and when we graduated we were a little dumbfounded at the lack of job opportunities out there. We got a studio together, started doing random jobs for survival and on one of those dreary days the idea sparked and we decided to start a fun zine together. ‘Chill’ in Korean means ‘to paint’, so we thought it was the perfect title. We started collecting material for the zine from nearby; artworks from friends who were in similar situations, and also our own artworks that had been completely neglected. As we completed 5 issues over the course of 1 & 1/2 years, we were surprised at how much we had learnt from it. A little zine got us very far in life lessons.

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Who and/or what inspires you? Does the fact that you’re originally from Korea and reside in Nepal inspire anything you do?
I know it sounds lame, but my parents inspire me a lot. They’re headstrong people dedicated to a project in Nepal that has been going on for the past 25 years, and their passion and diligence reminds me to keep doing my own thing. Growing up in Kathmandu, then moving to Korea for university was tough- I just didn’t get how people were outside of Nepal. I was a shell-shocked as well as culture-shocked. The speed and slickness of everything was hard to understand, but I got over it quick and kept to myself mostly and with my art, pulling references from Buddhist Thanka and folk styles from Nepal infusing them with Korean traditional folk art I was into at the time. These days I’m very much inspired by poetry.

What’s next for Maia Ruth Lee?
I’m back in Nepal after working in Italy for a year, and I am getting prepared for a solo exhibition in Kathmandu that will open on the 16th of May in a beautiful gallery in town. And after that? I don’t know!

What can you not live without?
At this point, good Himalayan coffee. I’m hooked.

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What sight(s) evokes happiness for you?
Old things make me happy. Especially old drawings and old writings- anything with a lot of history and stories make me happy because it makes me think. The simplicity of Nepali/Indian folk art for example, have much to say without saying it. Colors make me happy. Patterns make me ecstatic, and I go crazy at the sight of insignificant but beautiful details.

What sight(s) makes you sad?
Neglected objects make me a little sad sometimes. Like neglected pots outside on the street, or neglected piles of dishes in the sink. Neglected old people make me sad too.

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What other projects are you involved in? Future projects?
We’re trying really hard to publish our 6th issue of Chillzine this summer. The topic is on ‘Dislocation and other variables’, and we’re excited to get it out asap. Also my friend Christopher Knowles and I recently got our album ‘Careless’ out on iTunes, under the name ‘Clarity Kaufmann’. It was a super fun project we did, and it was also my first time singing and playing small instruments, so we’re trying to organize some gigs around that.

I’m doing some projects in Kathmandu with friends while I’m here, getting involved in the therapeutic and interactive side to arts. I’m also working as a correspondent to some magazines, like Colors magazine. Their next issue, ‘The Sea’ is coming out with one of my stories, check it out:)

Is there a Maia theme song?
Here’s a track that always makes me smile!

Look out for the rest of Jay’s sensory tour in the coming weeks. In the meantime, check out some more of his work

Comments (3)
  • Christal coool Sat May 07, 2011
  • Joe Foulds Hey there! My band just made our first full song!!! Please have a look, we've learnt a lot from your blog! :) xxx Tue Jun 01, 2010
  • Jason Lewis » Sensory Pleasures 1/5, Me x Maia Ruth Lee for Converse. [...] “Play” introduces everyone to one of my favorite people, Maia Lee Ruth. Maia took the time to [...] Wed Apr 07, 2010
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