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A Night With Kim Lee, the Only Vietnamese Drag Queen in Poland

There are only around 30 drag queens in Poland, and just one of them has Vietnamese roots: Kim Lee.

Editor's note: We are heart-broken to learn and inform you that Kim Lee, whose real name is Andy Nguyen, passed away in December 2020 due to COVID-19. May he rest in peace.

I had the incredibly opportunity to meet Kim earlier this year, get to know him and find out about his life as a drag queen, boylesque (the male version of burlesque) and burlesque performer in Warsaw.

Kim Lee was born in Vietnam, but has been living in Warsaw since the 1990s and is now a Polish citizen and speaks fluent Polish. He's part of the country's Vietnamese diaspora, the largest population of non-European migrants in Poland with an estimated size of 50,000–80,000.

Kim’s debut on the Polish scene was in 2002, and since then he hasn’t stopped performing. He is well-known in Poland, but also performs in Berlin and London and is often described by the media as “the most popular Polish drag queen.”

This is where the magic happens: Kim’s private studio, which contains hundreds of costumes, wigs, accessories and shelves of make up.

Kim organizes his studio meticulously into boxes, where outfits are stored away so that they can be easily found.

Kim has a huge red sofa in his studio where he welcomes visitors. The walls are filled with awards, photos from performances and calendars where Kim has been featured. All along the walls are numerous shelves stacked with some of the most extravagant shoes.

Kim is extremely skilled on the sewing machine. Over the years he has gotten used to fixing and sometimes adjusting his costumes.

A close-up of one of the outfits.

Kim in his studio getting ready for a summer performance in Warsaw. He begins with makeup before choosing the right wig and outfit.

A selection of books and films in Kim’s studio.

Even though Kim knows his outfits inside-out, he still has a hard time choosing what to wear for the big night.

Putting on the final touches before Kim heads to the venue where he will perform. His make-up and outfit are ready and a matching wig is on. The last touch is just getting the most suitable gloves.

Kim looks stunning and is ready for the night after hours of preparation.

During the performance, Kim often changes outfits. He often uses his knowledge of Polish culture and tradition to subvert social stereotypes in his shows.

About the photographer

Zula Rabikowska is a Polish-British visual artist based in London. Zula was born in Poland, grew up in the UK and has worked in France, China, South Africa, India, Palestine and the Caribbean.

Her practice is influenced by her own experience of immigration and in her work, she explores the themes of national identity, displacement and belonging. She is interested in the ways in which written and vernacular narratives interact with images and uses vernacular photography in her work. To see more of her work please visit her website, or follow her on Instagram.

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