MANIFESTO

#63

CHANGE OF SPACE

WOMEN!

2024.04.12

Text by Francesca Fontanesi

WOMEN, Pirate Edition! 女性 is the fanzine version of the original volume dedicated to the work of Nadia Lee Cohen, a photographer of dreamlike, saturated, and surreal landscapes that capture the visceral pleasures and terrors of the urban environment.

Women, the bestseller by Nadia Lee Cohen originally published by IDEA, has been republished in a bootleg version inspired by the culture of Japanese fanzines: an ode to Japan’s long history of self-published creative works, such as ukiyo-e prints from the Edo period and the more recent dojinshi (self-published comics), and to the aesthetics of Japanese cinema icons. The zine movement, as it is known today, began to take root in Japan around the 2000s, with the proliferation of blogs and the influence of international zine communities: unlike its beginnings, Japanese zines tend to focus on artistic and individual expression rather than political and subversive content. In Cohen’s own work, the artist has stated that while there are no overt messages in much of her work, the aim is to shine a big, bright theatrical spotlight on things we might consider mundane or familiar. The over 100 portraits in the mise-en-scêne of the WOMEN series are presented in the form of editorial pages, adding a new layer to Lee Cohen’s cinematic exploration of contemporary femininity.

IMAGES FROM THE BOOK "WOMEN", PIRATED EDITION. PUBLISHED BY IDEA.
COPYRIGHT NADIA LEE COHEN.
IMAGES FROM THE BOOK "WOMEN", PIRATED EDITION. PUBLISHED BY IDEA.
COPYRIGHT NADIA LEE COHEN.
IMAGES FROM THE BOOK "WOMEN", PIRATED EDITION. PUBLISHED BY IDEA.
COPYRIGHT NADIA LEE COHEN.

Artist, director, and photographer, Nadia Lee Cohen has always worked immersed in pop culture. Cinema, advertising, shopping malls, and the sordid remnants of Western consumerism inspire her work, which then falls within the networks of mass media in the form of magazine covers, music videos, and Instagram posts. Born on a small farm isolated in the greenery of the English countryside, Lee Cohen began, with the help of her parents, to build sets for her early film and photography projects in the garage. Surrounded by artists – her mother painted some of the characters in the 1978 animated film Watership Down, and her uncle was a draftsman selected as a Playboy cartoonist in the early 1960s – she decided to move to Los Angeles in search of new material inspired by the Hollywood scene, only to discover that the real Hollywood Boulevard is made of sleazy neon lights and shattered dreams. This sad but raw reality becomes for the artist a new source of inspiration: her photographs and films are visions of dreamlike landscapes, saturated and surreal, capturing the overt pleasures and visceral terrors of the urban environment. In 2020, she published her first book – Women, now in a fanzine edition – an important monograph produced over six years of work, including over 100 unpublished portraits. A poignant work of theatrical ambiguity, naked in its honesty and profoundly moving: drawing on the duality of form and the female figure, Nadia Lee Cohen fixes our gaze on that twisted paradise hidden within her mind, exploring the paradoxical standoff between strength and fragility. The artist follows in the tradition of Cindy Sherman, Gillian Wearing, and Frida Kahlo, conceptualist women who have seen in the candor of self-portraiture an invitation to become someone else.

IMAGE FROM THE BOOK "WOMEN", PIRATED EDITION. PUBLISHED BY IDEA.
COPYRIGHT NADIA LEE COHEN.

“I wouldn’t say I have any taboos; but I prefer to make a point subtly than creating something that overtly offends for the intent of shock factor”.

– Nadia Lee Cohen

Cohen’s work presents a sharp outsider perspective on American culture, driven by perfection. It’s a theme that recurs in her images, honed by drawing from the iconography of 1960s and 1970s American suburbs: the artist uses the camera to subvert and challenge societal ideals, whether focused on beauty, wealth, femininity, or desirability in general. She creates characters who operate within the paradigm they were born into, but only on their own terms. Irreverence unleashes alongside a high level of self-awareness; she portrays figures who revel in their freedoms while understanding the artificial systems that imprison them. Invited to the most important events in the international creative panorama, Nadia Lee Cohen sits in the front row and presents herself. Or perhaps it seems so. If these personal appearances blur the lines between artist and celebrity, her self-portrait work certainly doesn’t: in Hello, My Name Is, published by IDEA in 2021, Nadia Lee Cohen manifests herself in 33 different characters. Obsessed with flea markets, dump auctions, and thrift stores, the artist gathered the identification cards of 33 unknown people and from these remains gave life to new characters, including Teena, a fan of Jane Birkin who smokes Marlboro Reds; Ivett, the melancholic casino dealer; Michael, the athlete who reads Playboy; and Diane, specializing in ear piercing. Each portrait in the book is accompanied by a full-page still life and objects that the artist acquired to add detail to her figures, such as the contents of a bag, a desk drawer, or a car’s glove compartment. Nadia herself is unrecognizable in many of the portraits: only the true character of the figure is visible. The project prompts a reflection: who is Nadia Lee Cohen not?

IMAGE FROM THE BOOK "WOMEN", PIRATED EDITION. PUBLISHED BY IDEA.
COPYRIGHT NADIA LEE COHEN.

“Our personality and the way we choose to look is fragments of everything we’ve ever encountered, read, or watched. We’re all like Frankensteins”.

– Nadia Lee Cohen

IMAGES FROM THE BOOK "WOMEN", PIRATED EDITION. PUBLISHED BY IDEA.
COPYRIGHT NADIA LEE COHEN.
IMAGES FROM THE BOOK "WOMEN", PIRATED EDITION. PUBLISHED BY IDEA.
COPYRIGHT NADIA LEE COHEN.
IMAGES FROM THE BOOK "WOMEN", PIRATED EDITION. PUBLISHED BY IDEA.
COPYRIGHT NADIA LEE COHEN.

For further information ideanow.online.

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