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Astria Suparak: Asian futures, without Asians 

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Submitted on November 15, 2021 - 3:09pm
Photograph of a humanoid robot with face partially removed to expose robotics beneath.
Image credit: Screenshot of “Ex Machina", as part of Asian futures, without Asians by Astria Suparak, 2021.

Event

November 30 at 6pm via Zoom
Register here

What does it mean when so many white filmmakers envision futures inflected by Asian culture, but devoid of actual Asian people? This is the central question posed by artist and curator Astria Suparak in her illustrated lecture Asian futures, without Asians. This presentation is the work’s Pacific Northwest premiere and will be followed by a discussion with University of Washington professor Chandan Reddy. 

Part critical analysis, part reflective essay, Asian futures, without Asians is sprinkled throughout with humor, justified anger, and informative morsels, examining over 50 years of American science fiction cinema through the lens of Asian appropriation and whitewashing. Using a wide interpretation of “Asian” to reflect current and historical geopolitical trends and self-definitions (inclusive of East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia, Central Asia, North Africa, and the Pacific Islands — the latter two of which are not technically Asia), this research-creation project examines how Asian cultures have been mixed and matched, contrasted against, and conflated with each other, often creating a fungible “Asianness” in futuristic sci-fi.

The quick-paced, hour-long presentation is interspersed with images and clips from dozens of futuristic movies and TV shows, as Suparak delivers anecdotes, trivia, and historical documents (including photographs, ads, and cultural artifacts) from the histories of film, art, architecture, design, fashion, food, and martial arts. Suparak discusses the implications of not only borrowing heavily from Asian cultures, but decontextualizing and misrepresenting them, while excluding Asian contributors. 

Asian futures, without Asians was commissioned by The Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts as part of their Trinh T. Minh-ha season. It’s one part of Suparak’s multipart research series of the same name, which includes videos, installations, collages, essays, publications, and other projects.

About the artist

Astria Suparak is an artist, curator, and writer based in Oakland, Calif. Her cross-disciplinary projects often address urgent political issues and have been widely acclaimed for their high-level concepts made accessible through a popular culture lens. Suparak’s creative and collaborative projects, often taking the form of publicly accessible tools, maps, and databases of subcultures and misunderstood histories, have been exhibited and performed at MoMA, Artists Space (New York), ICA London, SFMOMA, Tensta Konsthall (Stockholm), ICA LA, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, The Andy Warhol Museum, The Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, and as part of For Freedoms’ billboard series. Her artwork has been published in BlackStar Festival’s Seen journal, art journal LTTR, and Graffiti Women: Street Art from Five Continents. She edited The Yes Men Activity Book and her writing has appeared in Art21 MagazineVICE Magazine‘s Noisey, The Getty blog, Boing BoingThe ExhibitionistQueer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community, and The Museum Is Not Enough.

About the discussion host

Chandan Reddy is Associate Professor in the departments of the Comparative History of Ideas and the Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle. His book, Freedom With Violence: Race, Sexuality and the U.S. State (2011) from Duke University Press won the Alan Bray Memorial award for Queer studies from the MLA as well as the Best Book in Cultural Studies from the Asian American Studies Association, both in 2013. He is co-editor (with Jodi Byrd, Alyosha Goldstein, and Jodi Melamed) of the special issue, “Economies of Dispossession: Indigeneity, Race, Capitalism," Social Text (Spring 2018). His recent publications include, “Convergence, Dissymmetry, Duplicities: Enactments of Queer of Color Critique,” Cambridge Companion to Queer Studies, Siobhan Sommerville, ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2020).

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