Spread from Women by Nadia Lee Cohen showing over 100 thumbnail size photos of a person applying and removing make-up

Nadia Lee Cohen creates a dupe of her own book

The artist’s new book, a ‘pirated’ edition of her hugely popular debut monograph, embraces the visual language of Japanese books geared towards movie fans in the 90s

As Oscar Wilde once said, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. What he didn’t mention is whether the originator and imitator have to be different people.

British US-based artist Nadia Lee Cohen has tapped into the rising tide of dupe culture by producing a ‘pirated’ version of her hugely successful debut monograph, Women, which presented theatrical, stylised portraits of women. Filled with existing ephemera and new visuals, the new book – also published by Idea – pays homage to the original while evolving it into something altogether new.

Spread from Women by Nadia Lee Cohen showing photos of the book next to a Japanese Malboro advert featuring a person with slicked-back hair smoking a cigarette
Spread from Women by Nadia Lee Cohen showing images of sofas next to Japanese text, and a receipt attached to fabric

“I was flicking through the Japanese fanzines in Idea over Christmas and realised that more often than not I found the bootleg so much cooler than the original book,” says the artist. Molly Ringwald, Keanu Reeves and other 90s heartthrobs were the subject of these fan books, the Idea team explains. “Those books are mostly photographic with stills from the films mixed with publicity photos but there is one of Hugh Grant where they just don’t have quite enough films to pull from and 30 of the 80 pages are collaged pictures of Oxford colleges.”

The team at Idea recall a Matt Dillon fan book from 1984 being a key reference. “That book certainly has the hectic art-direction-in-all-directions look and feel that is carried through to the Pirate Edition of Women.” It was also a useful comparison for Japanese customers enjoying an early glimpse of the book, who “did wince at the copywriting, but when [we] showed them the Matt Dillon original they all understood – ‘ah, it is supposed to be written in a trashy style!’”

Spread from Women by Nadia Lee Cohen showing a picture of a red tiled entrance signposted 'Women', and photographs of inside the venue with stained seats and various posters
Spread from Women by Nadia Lee Cohen showing images of a cassette tape and sheet music

For her own bootleg, Cohen wanted to show the kinds of materials she is drawn to in other people’s art practices. “I love polaroids, notes, random ephemera and any scandalous backstories, so I tried to incorporate as much of that as I could dig out. I was physically ‘digging it out’ too – there’s an actual cardboard box filled with all the bits I held onto. Things that were either sentimental or something I found funny and thought I should keep.

“It’s probably quite hard to grasp what each of the pages mean on an initial flick through, I almost need to make a ‘user guide’ as there’s a backstory and reason behind every page,” she explains. “There is a lot that’s left out, but if it were any thicker it wouldn’t have been the right shape to feel authentically like a fanzine. Plus maybe I can save all that for a ‘part two’ … no there’s definitely not a part two, at least not for another 20 years, I’ve milked it enough!”

Spread from Women by Nadia Lee Cohen showing a woman appearing to melt, next to a checklist
Spread from Women by Nadia Lee Cohen showing a face wipe with colourful make-up residue in the shape of a face

Working on the new edition was revelatory for Cohen in several ways. For one, she realised she “faffed around for years with the other one and could have probably got it done a lot sooner. I still can’t believe an idea can turn into a physical object in the space of three months,” she says.

“I also think I prefer it, probably because it’s shiny and new, but also because I feel it shows a sense of humour which I know is disguised a lot more heavily in the original.” Even if a part two never comes to fruition, there could be more to come: “Maybe there’ll be bootlegs of the bootlegs – they’d surely be even cooler.”

Spread from Women by Nadia Lee Cohen showing a sheet of paper headlined 'photos' next to an illustration of a red flower and scrawled notes, opposite an image of a photo wallet

Women Pirate Edition by Nadia Lee Cohen is published by Idea; ideanow.online