Michael Lee (American, b. 1994) is a graphic designer who holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Middle Tennessee State University. Additionally, Lee has a professional background working alongside underrepresented communities as a macro-focused licensed social worker and mental health advocate. Lee explores how by creating human connection, making observations, and critically listening, one can discover where design can be the most beneficial.
Lee’s current thesis work serves as a response to the commodification of allyship of historically marginalized and underrepresented communities and is exhibited in the form of the ALLY brand. Lee’s work emphasizes on creating a relationship between the consumer and the hyper-consumption of social awareness and allyship. By making the viewer an active consumer and participant, Lee’s work serves as a critique on how one can be supportive of marginalized people and/or social justice issues with more sensitivity regarding the marketability and consumption of allyship. This approach is not necessarily about fixing a societal issue but creating the conditions to see something that has become mainstream through a new lens. Lee’s thesis work will be on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art at UTC from March 30 – April 8, 2022.
I appreciate design that challenges commonly believed perceptions by questioning and confronting conventional ideas seen as societal truths. As a designer who holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Work (B.S.W.) and a professional background working alongside underrepresented communities as a licensed social worker and mental health advocate, it is my goal to research and expose discourses in our society and selves. As a social worker, I have personally seen the negative impact of how harmful, misinformed, and damaging design can affect a community from the societal to the personal. I believe that ethics cannot be separated from my professional art practice and that I have a moral imperative to find solutions to issues created by hurtful and exclusionary design.
Throughout my years of training, education, and observation, I have learned that design starts first with human connection and critically listening to where the designer can be the most beneficial and impactful. My thesis work, the ALLY brand, is my way of giving concrete form to the ways in which we, as a society, self-promote our support of marginalized communities through what we purchase. Additionally, my work serves as critique on how societal appreciation and support for marginalized communities co-exists alongside the marketability of those same communities. This approach isn’t about fixing a societal issue but creating the conditions to see something that can be considered mainstream with more sensitive eyes.