Video, 3:05 minutes (available with or without English subtitles)
Commissioned by the Berkeley Art Center
*This video broke the Walker Art Center’s record for online views of the Collection Playlist program*
Virtually Asian is a short video essay that looks at how white science fiction filmmakers fill the backgrounds of their futuristic worlds with hollow Asian figures—in the form of video and holographic advertisements—while the main cast (if not the entirety of their fictional universe’s population) is devoid of actual Asian people.
With examples from major sci-fi productions spanning four decades, the video reveals this trope as a poor attempt to mask white supremacist imagination and casting. This well-trodden shortcut is meant to create the appearance of a diverse world without hiring non-white people in any significant capacity (in front of or behind the camera).
Soundtracked by Vietnamese French beatmaker Onra, who deftly blends traditional and pop Chinese music from the 1960s with hip-hop, Virtually Asian is a video by Thai American artist Astria Suparak.
Virtually Asian is part of Suparak’s ongoing research project, Asian futures, without Asians, which is a taxonomy of how white mainstream filmmakers depict future worlds that are Asian-inflected, while simultaneously sidelining or disappearing the progenitors of those diverse Asian cultures. The project, which draws from the histories of art, architecture, design, fashion, film, food, and weaponry, will be unveiled throughout 2021-22 in various forms, including gallery installations, collages, videos, visual essays, and a multimedia presentation presented by contemporary art museums, a science-fiction festival, a film journal, a fashion history institution, and other organizations.
View English subtitled version here.
THE OPTION TO…
Organized by Daniel Nevers
Berkeley Art Center, Berkeley, California
October 2020—February 2021 (online)
Artists: Kimberley Acebo Arteche, Adia Millett, Roya Ebtahaj, Feral Fabric, Dionne Lee, Astria Suparak
Berkeley Art Center presents a series of newly commissioned projects by artists working in video, animation, writing, textiles, photography, and interactive media. As part of its response to the pandemic, and inspired by the Feminist Art Coalition’s call to draw attention to works informed by various feminisms, Berkeley Art Center will unveil these projects every few weeks during the exhibition run.
ENCODING FUTURES: Critical Imaginaries of AI
Curated by Mashinka Firunts Hakopian and Meldia Yesayan
Oxy Arts, Los Angeles
September 16—November 19, 2021
Artists: Algorithmic Justice League, Stephanie Dinkins, Aroussiak Gabrielian, Maya Ganesh, Kite, Lauren Lee McCarthy, Niama Safia Sandy, Caroline Sinders, Astria Suparak, Mandy Harris William
Algorithmic worldmaking often unfolds in a “black box”: an opaque space of automated decision-making whose rationale is hidden from public view. Researchers and cultural workers are opening up the black box for scrutiny to imagine possibilities for feminist, antiracist, and decolonial AI. This exhibition assembles the work of artists who visualize the limits of our current algorithmic imaginaries, and envision speculative futures engineered for just outcomes.
Suparak’s “Virtually Asian” will be exhibited as part of “Sympathetic White Robots (and Cyborgs),” a new installation commissioned for this exhibition.
“COLLECTION PLAYLISTS: Virtually Asian & Beirut Outtakes“
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (on-site and online)
February 8–22, 2022
*Broke the Walker’s record for online views of the Collection Playlist program, with close to 700 views in 2 weeks (does not include in-person views)*
Peggy Ahwesh and Astria Suparak offer inventive perspectives of Western influences on Asian cinema and Asian influences on Western cinema. In Ahwesh’s Beirut Outtakes (2007), found footage retrieved from an abandoned cinema in Beirut provides commentary on cultural appropriation in the Middle East. In Suparak’s recent video essay Virtually Asian (2021), holographic advertisement scenarios reveal a white supremacist history of Hollywood science fiction filmmaking.
GROW OUR SOULS
Organized by Melissa Wang
SOMArts, San Francisco
April 30—May 22, 2022
Artists: Astria Suparak, Cindy Shih, Connie Zheng, Diana Li, Jess X Snow, Kacy Jung, Monica Tie, Nancy Sayavong, Preetika Rajgariah, Rea Lynn de Guzman, Sheng Lor, Trinh Mai
Inspired by Grace Lee Boggs, Grow Our Souls showcases twelve artists who are reimagining labor in an era of climate change and late-stage capitalism.
NEW YORK TIMES
“One of the key strategies for today’s artist-activists is creating visibility: calling attention to the often unseen and unnoted presence of Asian-American communities in cities and in the culture — to their labor and contributions, and to the violence aimed at them.
Countering invisibility is at the heart of a short film by Astria Suparak titled ‘Virtually Asian.’ It splices together scenes from science fiction movies in which urban landscapes are filled with stereotypical ‘Asian’ signifiers, but the actual characters are almost exclusively white. She worked on it during the coronavirus lockdown.
‘The piece is part of a larger project examining 40 years of sci-fi films,’ Suparak said, ‘and how white filmmakers envision a future that is inflected by Asian culture but devoid of actual Asian people.’
The project emerged, Suparak said, ‘out of an ongoing erasure and racism and violence, and how both in real life and in mainstream media our varied and unique cultures are carelessly misidentified and jumbled together.'”
– Aruna D’Souza, “Pushing Against Hate: Asian-American artists are spurred to activism,” April 18, 2021
“Suparak’s piece is immediate and her voice, narrating the words, is melodic and compelling. The over-dubbing of her acerbic observations on blockbuster films is a compelling prelude to other iterations of her work that will appear in fragments across digital platforms. […]
Racist histories feed right into an inability to imagine less racist futures. It is here that Suparak’s work intervenes, insisting on creative depictions of a future in which white American myths no longer dominate the collective imaginary.”
– Theadora Walsh, “Astria Suparak’s ‘Virtually Asian’ Analyzes Sci-Fi to Argue for Less Racist Futures,” March 2, 2021
LOS ANGELES TIMES
“on my watch list is Astria Suparak’s ‘Virtually Asian’ […] well worth checking out.”
– Carolina A. Miranda, “Essential Arts,” May 1, 2021
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
“Asian Futures, Without Asians illuminates the lopsided nature of one Hollywood genre and critiques the way media is concepted to guide audience empathy. Suparak’s [installation] investigates how artificial intelligence is coded in film, and the ways in which sympathetic robots and cyborgs, who are often white, are designed as “who the audience is supposed to root for,” Suparak says, adding: “The way they’re presented is in stark contrast to how Asian robots are often dehumanized.”
– “How Sci-Fi Films Use Asian Characters to Telegraph the Future While Also Dehumanizing Them,” Evan Nicole Brown, November 16, 2021
MEDIA-N JOURNAL OF THE NEW MEDIA CAUCUS
“The mute virtual women of the films profiled in Virtually Asian represent a curtailing of the technologically-enhanced female body. The effect of the accumulation of echoing tropes in Virtually Asian – of repeated images of Asian women in traditional dress appearing as immaterial set dressing for white characters – is to emphasize how relentless this process of erasure is. […]
Virtually Asian, released in spring 2021 against the backdrop of the pandemic, is indeed timely. As racialized violence against Asian Americans spiked this year, this film turns a critical lens on just how pervasive anti-Asian depictions are in popular culture. […] While many have spent the past year and a half watching movies at home, absorbing the types of media depictions that Suparak analyzes, the pandemic has also offered an opportunity for reflection. Despite its sharp critique, Virtually Asian ultimately strikes a hopeful tone. Science fiction films, after all, offer collective visions of the future: we have the capacity to imagine futures that are less racist, less sexist, more accurate reflections of the world we hope to inhabit.”
– “High-Tech Orientalism and Science Fiction Futures in Astria Suparak’s ‘Virtually Asian’ (2021),” Kaitlin Forcier, February 1, 2022
NEXTSHARK, reprinted in YAHOO NEWS, “‘Outsize, empty, mute Asians’: ‘Virtually Asian’ video essay critiques portrayals of Asians in popular sci-fi“, Sarah Yukiko, November 22, 2021
ForYourArt, “Top Pick of the Day,” Sept. 16, 2021
Hyperallergic, “Your Concise Los Angeles Art Guide for October 2021,” Matt Stromberg and Elisa Wouk Almino, October 2021
“Your list of must-see, fun, insightful, and very Los Angeles art events this month. […] Artists uncover the biases of AI […]”
CONGRATULATIONS PINE TREE (the San Francisco Bay Area’s arts and culture podcast)
“This is the toast of the town! Astria Suparak has a new video essay called ‘Virtually Asian’ [….] that has been put out by the Berkeley Art Center. […] It is a video essay which looks at how white science-fiction filmmakers fill the backgrounds of their futuristic worlds with hollow Asian figures, in the form of video and holographic advertisements — oh weird! — while the main cast is devoid of actual Asian people. And we heard a lot about the making of this project, and it is very incisive. Interesting project, everyone should watch that. Maybe you should organize a viewing parting with your friends, Listeners. A little get-together. A virtual viewing party.”
– Congratulations Pine Tree, February 9, 2021
“Particularly prevalent are the Asian hologram advertisements that apparently occupy every cityscape in the future, from Blade Runner (1982) to A.I. (2001) to Minority Report (2002), and do we even need to start in on Ghost in the Shell (2017)?”
– Janelle Hessig, “Watch a supercut of sci-fi movies that use Asian bodies without casting Asian characters,” March 7, 2021
SF/Arts, “Highlights: Films: Astria Suparak’s Virtually Asian,” February 2021