“ASIAN FUTURES, WITHOUT ASIANS”
Presentation: The Wattis Institute, San Francisco,
March 19, 2020 — POSTPONED due to COVID–19. For updates, follow on social media or check back here.
Publication: CCA Wattis Institute, 2020 (details to be announced)
“If the war is the continuation of politics by other means, then media images are the continuation of war by other means. Immersed in the machinery, part of the special effect, no critical distance.”
– Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989) by Trinh T. Minh-ha
A samurai sword on the wall of an evil mastermind’s office. A home decorated with Buddha statues. A blonde woman in a cheongsam. A speculative cityscape punctuated with prominent signage in Arabic. What does it mean when so many white filmmakers envision futures inflected by Asian culture, but devoid of actual Asian people?
In this illustrated presentation and essay, Astria Suparak discusses the implications of not only borrowing heavily from Asian culture, but decontextualizing and misrepresenting it, while excluding Asian contributors. Her lecture is interspersed with visual examples from popular American science fiction movies and TV shows, from the 1970s through today.
This presentation is part of a year-long season dedicated to the questions posed by the work of filmmaker, writer, theorist, composer and professor Trinh T. Minh-ha, and how they address art, culture, and society today. Series guests including Isaac Julien, Ranu Mukherjee, Adam & Zack Khalil, Hồng-Ân Trương, Astria Suparak, Genevieve Quick, Lynnée Denise, Việt Lê, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Ute Meta Bauer, Justine Chambers, and Cafe Ohlone.
“Once it’s pointed out, it’s hard to unsee: Asian futures without Asian people. In 2019, Oakland curator and artist Astria Suparak started cataloguing the trope (a form of techno-orientalism) in science fiction films made by white directors. […]
The talk ‘Asian Futures, Without Asians’ is Suparak’s critical distance. Examining the imagery in movies like Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, with examples that stretch from the 1970s to present-day sci-fi, she asks the audience a crucial question: What does it mean to absorb visions of the future that decontextualize Asian culture from its very people?”
– Sarah Hotchkiss, “Sci-Fi is Full of ‘Asian Futures, Without Asians’,” THE DO LIST, March 2020
THE ART REPORT, “This Month’s Feature: Asian Futures, Without Asians,” March 2020