Video, 3:05 minutes (available with or without English subtitles)
Commissioned by the Berkeley Art Center
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 in various forms, including digital projects, illustrated presentations, and visual essays, presented by contemporary art institutions, a science-fiction festival, a film journal, and other organizations.
View English subtitled version here.
THE OPTION TO…
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.
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
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