Minah Lee covering the lens of the built-in camera on her laptop. Photo by Minah Lee.

Minah Lee


This 15 minute talk version of the original paper Third Skin: The Borderless Surface of Migrants' Creative Resistance was initially performed on December 6th 2017 as part of Through the Tulgey Wood: MA symposium at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts.

This essay is a love letter to the contemporary migrants whose mobilities are stigmatized by nation-states. These same mobilities, in the realm of culture, reinforce global citizens’ desire for a transnational sensibility, which I model as Third Skin. This method for embodying border-crossing experiences draws upon theories investigating the intersections of art, politics, and senses. This sensory journey is demonstrated with three art works: visual artists Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ multimedia sculpture The Gates of Hell (2004); Lee Su-Feh’s ritualistic dance of remembrance The Things I Carry (2016); Nathalie Anguezomo Mba Bikoro’s performance memorial to the lost indigenous cultures After Sundance (2015). The process of witnessing these artworks is articulated by the writer, a migrant body straddling two far apart places: Seoul, Korea and unceded Coast Salish Territories, now called Vancouver, Canada. Third Skin tangiblizes the weight of our interrelations in globalization as creative resistance.

Third Skin: Feeling Home while Unlanded

In January 2016, I started seeing a bronze statue in a shape of a young girl on the front pages of South Korean online news. This civil memorial to Korean “comfort women,” installed in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul by a group of Korean citizens, became “a rallying point for weekly protests.” This ongoing interaction between civilians and the sculpture has been part of the protests that accelerated since December 28th, 2015, after the controversial agreement between the governments of South Korea and Japan regarding the sexual slavery forced by Japanese military during World War II. Japan had said it would pay one billion yen (about 10 million CAD) to compensate the Korean women forced to work in brothels.

However, the agreement required the statue be removed.

The statue addressed about 200,000 women whose mobility had been controlled and dignity violated under the name of Imperialist War.

On the dark screen, I tried to picture her feet.

A digital image of the feet of the Statue of Peace disappearing into the monitor of YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES’ sculpture The Gates of Hell (2004). Digital collage by Minah Lee.

In 2017, the surveillance apparatus of the post-Snowden era is swallowed into the exposed stomach of nationalist paranoia ready to persecute anything that cannot be broken down with its gastric juices. The increasing numbers of criminalized migrants are precariously tiptoeing around endless borders. Even relatively privileged economic migrants who step on North American soil with legitimate visas or passports are exposed to newly normalized systems of targeted surveillance.

I wanted to write a letter to ‘us and them’ who had been displaced by being asked to surrender our freedom of speech, mobility, compassion, dignity, passwords, and more.

It hurt

Minah Lee covering the lens of the built-in camera on her laptop. Photo by Minah Lee.

We need to freely feel that we are hurt. We need to acknowledge that others are hurt too. We must recognize what is hurting everyone under the roof of globalization that is shutting us in in the conditions of economic interdependency. But if the violence is so much naturalized, how can we sense it?

Sensing the sanitized violence requires an unwinding of state amnesia and cultural anesthesia entangled with our bodily understanding of the world.

We need to stay open to and harness the things that invoke our responsibilities for one another, and I insist that witnessing art works has a capability to do this.

This is where I imagine Third Skin.

I address this process of seeing/feeling our beings through the performative filter as a gesture of wearing the Third Skin, a method of redressing both blind spots and ignored cuts on neoliberal margins.

Within it we are open to empathy without narcissistically conflating the pain of others with our own. Instead of staying in 느낌의 피부 that I would call the Second Skin in English, we discover pores open to other selves through 이해의 피부, Third Skin. In Third Skin, we become hyper aware that the neoliberal nation-state has been naturalized as our force-worn uniform.

Let me investigate this expansion of transnational sensibility, this Third Skin, by exploring three artworks: YHCHI’s multimedia sculpture The Gates of Hell(which I used as a visual portal in this presentation); Lee Su-Feh’s ritualistic dance of remembrance The Things I Carry; and Nathalie Anguezomo Mba Bikoro’s memorial to the lost indigenous cultures After Sundance.

T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss sharing a cultural welcoming with Sḵwx̱ wú7mesh Úxwumixw – The Squamish Nation’s celebration song. Traditional Welcome at SFU School for the Contemporary Arts’ Through the Tulgey Wood: MA Symposium, 2017, at SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Unceded Coast Salish Territories.

Let me shift focus back to our feet, the ground, and where I am allowed to be. In April 2016, I walked into a studio called HopBopShop in the Vancouver Eastside to see dance artist Su-Feh’s solo performance The Things I Carry. Su-Feh is a migrant born and raised in Malaysia, and she lived in Paris before moving to Canada. In the studio, dark brown branches with strong green leaves were covering a performance area of the floor. The subtle mixture of smells brought into the space put me in a bit of ease. At that time, I was buzzing with anxieties about my expiring status on this land as a migrant body, going into immediate immigration limbo. After nine years in Vancouver, I couldn’t find a piece of law that would allow me to choose to live on this land as a not-“world-class” working artist independent from an economically stable relationship with a Canadian spouse or a reliable institution. The values of love, community, and creativity that I carried as a person and artist completely slipped through the economic sieve of the immigration calculator, Canada’s Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). [1] I was one of the Unlanded and I still am.

A cedar branch featured in Minah Lee’s presentation at SFU School for the Contemporary Arts’ Through the Tulgey Wood: MA Symposium, 2017, at SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Unceded Coast Salish Territories.

Let me bring us back to the land. In her performance, Lee told us that the leaves she stood on were cedar branches. Lee had visited Stanley Park with Vancouver Indigenous artist T’uy’t’tanat -Cease Wyss, who introduced cedar as our mother. I learned that the tea offered to us has the same ingredients as the tea Wyss had made and offered to Su-Feh with handpicked elements from the Earth.

Su-Feh told us Wyss’ story of an indigenous house that had been cut up by the government’s land surveyors and of people evicted from the house. The smell of the cedar and infused ingredients from the earth restored, underneath our feet touching the floor, the violated ground on unceded territory as our Third Skin.

Here’s a Portal.

Huckleberry featured in Lee’s Slide show “Third Skin.” Photo by T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss.

It was a quiet moment of shock that I faced when I entered the space of a performance called “After Sundance” in 2015 as part of Live Biennale at VIVO media arts centre in Vancouver. I saw a woman in her bare feet walking on shards of glass densely spread out in a circular path. I cringed, but the performer’s calm and persistent walk drew me closer.

The performer’s name was Nathalie Anguezomo Mba Bikoro, her works are hugely inspired by her experience of home in Gabon and in Europe. Her creative motivation revolves around movements of decolonization.

She continued to walk.

My reactive imagination lifted her body up from the broken landscape and relocated her body in a smooth landscape.

(singing) I want to sing for you who happened to walk on shards of glass with your bare feet and feel shattered. We all are born from bleeding ocean but who dropped you on this land without shoes. I want to sing for you who chose to walk on shards of glass with your bare feet and feel charged. I feel responsible for staying here and witnessing you walking. I share the guilt of this world, I weep for you bleeding girl with dry eyes.

I wasn’t bold enough to see what I see.

Now I see you with my bare eyes, so walk into my eyes.

bleeding girl who can’t cry anymore, walk into them.

I will drop you onto a new land. You will still be on your bare feet but

No more blood.

You may cry but that’s okay.

Although it was my personal entry into the artwork, my attitude towards the performance somewhat shifted when I learned more about “After Sundance.” The Sun Dance is a ceremony practiced by some Indigenous peoples of Americas. However, both Canada and United States created, as technics of European colonialism, laws banning not only First Nations’ ceremonies but also their native languages. According to Fausto Grossi Terenzio, typically the rituals of the Sun Dance are ordeals for the participants, which include piercing of their skin. “The object of the sun dance is to offer personal sacrifice as a prayer for the benefit of one's family and community and a commemoration to the land and the mothers of the community.” [2]

This was a moment I recognized my second skin put on another body whose history and memories of the world are profoundly different from that of mine, and this realization of the gap spurred me to seek my third skin whose pores sweat to understand what is stranger to me.

I interpreted the cuts and blood as an immediate sign of violence based on my cultural understandings, but what I wasn’t aware was a more complicated aspect of what violence is. And what is visible and what is invisibilized.

I was insensible to this and my surroundings for many years: Governments erase indigenous spiritual practices and perpetuate systematic violence that is lethal to the land and its people, yet this violence as system lacks an immediate physical or sensible form. Art overcomes this socially camouflaged insensibility and provides a potentiality of political images.

This in-process formation of Third Skin is always in between. Between You and I. Between Second skin and a scar. Third Skin is like the proud flesh hugging the old bleeding cut from divisions produced by insentient weapons operating systemic logics.

Rendering the process of understanding personal helps us hidden in the masses/citizenry, discover strategically invisiblized wounds.

And we are the proud flesh that needs better care and must emanate a sense of care.


Terenzio, Fausto Grossi. “„this is love“.” Nathalie Anguezomo Mba Bikoro, Accessed Nov 12, 2016,

[1]. My 10 years of stay as a community member, when calculated by CRS, did not add up anywhere close to the minimum number with which the government gives an Invitation To Apply (ITA) for Canadian permanent residence, to someone who has uploaded hir profile to the pool of the national occupational evaluation system. For the ones whose scores don’t guarantee ‘economic security of the nation,’ there is no right even to apply for the right to live in their communities or to escape socio-economic conditions of their homelands. The system produces a population of temporary residents that cannot be selected by this neoliberal citizenship-curation. This program is deceptively named Express Entry, known to offer faster administrative process for applicants with ITA.

[2]. Fausto Grossi Terenzio, “„this is love“,” Nathalie Anguezomo Mba Bikoro, accessed Nov 12, 2016,


Minah is a world citizen who was born and raised in South Korea. She is one of the Unlanded on this land. Nevertheless, she is a proud member of the eco-army called ESL poetrees planted in the soil of unceded lands. She is currently struggling to find her own ways to honor the sacred waters of the First Nations’ peoples’ lands. She is a daughter of Mother Earth, a granddaughter of 박우덕, a daughter of 구명숙. Her presentation of this essay, dedicated to those women, also appeared as part of UBC’s 41st Annual AHVA Graduate Symposium: Tracing Erasure (2018), Uncommon Sense II: Art, Technology, Education, Law, Society – and Sensory Diversity (2018) at Concordia University, 13th international conference on The Arts in Society: How Art Makes Things Happen – Situating Social Practice in Research, Practice, and Action (2018) at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Minah holds an MA in Comparative Media Arts and a BFA in Theatre performance from SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts.

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