Hye Rim Lee


NameHye Rim Lee (she/her)
Country of BirthSouth Korea
Place of ResidenceTāmaki Makaurau Auckland
Dealer GalleryWaterfall Mansion & Gallery, New York, Ahuriri Contemporary
ArtformVisual arts
Decades Active2000s, 2010s, 2020s


Hye Rim Lee is a visual artist known for her computer-generated images and animations, many of which feature a recurring character called TOKI, a feminine cyborg. Lee’s work has been widely shown internationally, and she has spent time living and exhibiting in New York, Seoul, and Tāmaki Makaurau.

Lee was born in Seoul and lived there for 30 years, during which time she studied music, training as a singer and graduating from Ewha Women’s University in 1985. After moving to Aotearoa in 1993, she studied Fine Arts, with a major in Intermedia and Time Based Arts, at Elam and graduated in 2002.

The TOKI/Cyborg project began in 2001, and since then, Lee has worked across a range of media, including computer-generated photographs, 3D animations, and computer games, to build a cyber universe around TOKI. Lee created TOKI as a digital persona that allows her to explore the cute-sexy aesthetic that is often fetishised — both within Asian visual cultures and in Western cultures as a stereotype of Asia. She is a provocative character who often coos, winks, and bats her long eyelashes at the viewer — in ways that can be both mesmerising and unsettling, even menacing.

The TOKI universe functions as a commentary on the ways female sexual identities are constructed and manipulated in the male-dominated field of video game design and in the cosmetic surgery culture Lee observed in South Korea. Lee has said, “My work deals specifically with cyberfeminism and female identity, and it makes sense that my work is seen as part of these evolving contemporary ideas rather than traditional terms like Feminism."

Since 2014, Lee has been creating a new project called Elements, which reworks and reconstructs imagery from past works — with new meaning imbued. The message of finding beauty in brokenness, and emerging with a new identity, reflects some of Lee’s own personal experiences. As part of creating a new project, Lee always uses past projects to connect her new ideas, and symbolism and binarism are still strong elements in her storytelling. TOKI is a shapeshifter, becoming The Princess, The Rose, and The Queen. Symbols, colours and textures are used to depict TOKI’s transformation and Lee’s work speaks to two opposing states, showing that beauty can both be found and remain in brokenness.

Through the recent series, Lee is reshaping TOKI, no longer naked and an advocate for objectified women, but a spiritual being. Lee is now more interested in the ideas about creation, life and eternity — a space where hope is imminent and brings healing and restoration to the wounded soul. She has described these new works as resisting “the playfully passive readings of TOKI to date” to connect “to a more personal narrative, exploring ideas of isolation, oppression, lost love, hopelessness, and a sensibility of imagination and finding light in darkness in the mortality of human”.

Lee is currently based in Tāmaki Makaurau.


Key works / presentations

2023 — The Rose and her Thorns, Jhana Millers Gallery, Pōneke

2023 — A Blooming Resilience, Waterfall Mansion & Gallery, New York

2023 — LIGHT YEAR 98: Caution: Beautification in Progress, Manhattan Bridge, DUMBO, New York

2022 — Sweat Equity, SCAPE Public Art, Ōtautahi

2022 — Singularity, Decentral Art Pavilion Venice Edition, Palazzo Giustinian Lolin, Venice

2021 — Black Rose | Crystal City, Northart, Tāmaki Makaurau

2021 — Light House, San Clemente Palace Kempinski Venezia, Architecture Biennale, Venice

2021 — Piercer, SeMA창고, Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul

2020 — Unbreakable: Women in Glass, Fondazione Berengo Art Center, Murano, Venice

2020 — Into The Open, Michael Fowler Centre, Te Papa and New Zealand Festival of the Arts, Pōneke

2019 — Lux Aeterna, ISEA 2019, ACC (Asia Culture Centre), Gwangju

2019 — Glasstress 2019 in the Venice Biennale, Fondazione Berengo Art Center, Murano, Venice

2017 — The Skin I Live In, SOMA (Seoul Olympic Museum of Art), Seoul

2016 — Arrival, Gallery Simon, Seoul

2014 — Lucid Dream, Black Rose, Glass Box, Gow Langsford Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau

2014 — Time Art Impact, Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai

2013 — A Different View: Pornography in the Public Eye, Gus Fisher Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau

2013 — Lips Painted Red, Trondheim Kunstmuseum, Trondheim

2011 — Crystal City: Contemporary Asian Artists, The Dowse Art Museum, Te Awakairangi ki Tai

2011 — Crystal City Spun, Starkwhite, Tāmaki Makaurau

2010 — New Stories from the Edge of Asia: Plastic Life, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose

2010 — Restricted, Monte Clark Gallery, Vancouver

2009 — Indomitable Women, Barcelona Contemporari Art Festival, Fundacio Joan Miro, Montjuic Park and CCCB: Centre de Cultura Contemporana de Barcelona, Barcelona

2009 — Glasstress, a collateral exhibition, The 53rd Venice Biennale, Istituto Veneto di Scienze Lettere ed Arti, Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti, Venice

2009 — Animamix Biennial- Visual Attract and Attack, MOCA Taipei, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan, MoCA Shanghai, Today Art Museum Beijing

2008 — Videotheque, Art Unlimited, Art Basel, Basel

2008 — Crystal City, Max Lang Gallery, New York

2008 — Crystal City, Diehl Projects, Galerie Volker Diehl, Berlin

2007 — Obsession/Love Forever, Candyland, Kukje Gallery, Seoul

2006 — Fiction@Love / Forever Young Land, MoCA Shanghai

2006 — Candyland, Starkwhite, Tāmaki Makaurau

2005 — Paradiso D’amore: New Aesthetics of Animamic Age, The Hangzhou West Lake Expo Museum, Millennium Museum, Beijing and Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou

2004 — Break/Shift, Govett Brewster Art Gallery, Ngāmotu

2004 — Telecom Prospect 2004: New Art New Zealand, City Gallery Wellington, Pōneke

2003 — Sublime Metaphor, Oxford Museum, England, Leedy Voulkos Gallery, Kansas City

2003 — Arcadia: the other life of video games, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Ngāmotu

2002 — Break, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Ngāmotu

Key awards

2013 — Visiting Research Fellow, Faculty of Design and Creative Technology, AUT, Tāmaki Makaurau

2007 — International Studio and Curatorial Program, artist in residence, New York

2006 — SSamzie Space Studio Programme, artist in residence, Seoul

Last updated: 6 May 2024 Suggest an Edit


A round projection with a close up of an animated feminine face beneath a round ceiling dome.

Hye Rim Lee, Lash (installation view), in the exhibition Powder Room, Gus Fisher Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau, 2005

A circular projection on a brutalist building shows the head of an animated bunny-woman character.

Hye Rim Lee, Lash, projected onto the Michael Fowler Centre, Pōneke Wellington, as part of Into the Open, 2020

Circular projection onto a gallery wall of an animated woman.

Hye Rim Lee, Lash, in Time Art Impact, Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai, 2014

Virginia Were, 'Artist in wonderland', Art News, Winter 2013

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Ron Hanson, 'Super Bunny Super Beauty', Listener, May 21, 2005

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Barry King, 'Orientalizing Sexism: Hye Rim Lee's TOKI', afterimage, January/February 2006

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Four large white works with shiny animated black, pink and red figures on a gallery wall.

Hye Rim Lee, Crystal City (installation view), Max Lang Gallery, New York, 2008

Three large black works with shiny white and silver figures in the corner of an art gallery with black walls.

Hye Rim Lee, Crystal City (installation view), Max Lang Gallery, New York, 2008

Jaenine Parkinson, 'Toki: Hye Rim Lee', New Zealand Art Monthly, July 2004

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Illuminated animations of crystal flasks on a black background in an art gallery.

Hye Rim Lee, Obsession/Love Forever (installation view), Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai, 2014