“Why are they so afraid of the lotus?”

Paperback, 256 pages, 4.5 x 7 inches
Editors: Kim Nguyen and Jeanne Gerrity
Publishers: CCA Wattis Institute (San Francisco) and Sternberg Press (Berlin)
Distributor: MIT Press
Release date: 2021

Why are they so afraid of the lotus? takes the work of Trinh T. Minh-ha as its point of departure and explores themes such as cultural hybridization and fluidity of identity, digital and migratory aesthetics, memory and landscape, decentered realities, feminist approaches to storytelling, meditations on death and myth, post-coloniality and decolonization, and women’s work as related to cultural politics. A conceptual “course packet” of readings around and inspired by the work of Trinh, it includes essays, poems, drawings, collages, stories, paintings, photographs, and more.

Driven by the central question “What are we learning from artists today?,” the contributions to Why are they so afraid of the lotus? embody Trinh’s own weariness around categorization and investigate the ways production can come from and be based in positions of unknowing.

Why are they so afraid of the lotus? is the second book in an annual series of readers titled A Series of Open Questions. Each reader includes newly commissioned texts and an edited selection of perspectives, images, and references related to the Wattis’s year-long research seasons. The title of each book comes in the form of a question.


Contributors: Amy Fung; Angie Morrill, Eve Tuck, and the Super Futures Haunt Qollective; Astria Suparak; Camille Rankine; Christina Sharpe; Christine Wang; Dionne Brand; Divya Mehra; Frantz Fanon; Julio García Espinosa; Kameelah Janan Rasheed; Katherine McKittrick & Alexander G. Weheliye; Kathy Zarur; Leslie Marmon Silko; Ranu Mukherjee; Renee Gladman; Shylah Pacheco Hamilton; Simone Browne; Sky Hopinka; Steffani Jemison; tamara suarez porras; Theresa Hak Kyung Cha; Tisa Bryant; Trinh T. Minh-ha; and Wendy Xu



WHY ARE THEY SO AFRAID OF THE LOTUS? includes Astria Suparak’s 39-page visual essay Asian futures, without Asians, based on the illustrated presentation of the same name. Both were commissioned by The Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. 

  • Print version (black and white) published by CCA Wattis Institute (San Francisco) and Sternberg Press (Berlin), June 2021.
  • Online version (full color) available for free download from the Wattis Institute Library.

Asian futures, without Asians is part of a multipart research series by Astria Suparak which includes videos, collages, presentations, installations, essays, and other creative projects.





“The table of contents for Why are they so afraid of the lotus? is wrapped around its soft-bound cover. It’s an envelope of sorts, containing texts commissioned and selected from artists and writers like Astria Suparak, Christina Sharpe, Wendy Xu, Frantz Fanon, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and many more.

The anthology is published as a culmination of the Wattis’s year-long public program “Trinh T. Minh-ha is on our mind.” Interrupted by the pandemic, the first half of the curatorial project entailed lectures and performances, a film series (that went digital last March) and focused engagement with the works of Trinh T. Minh-ha: filmmaker, writer, composer, artist and longtime professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Trinh is perhaps best known for her 1989 documentary film Surname Viet Given Name Nam, which presents interviews with Vietnamese women on the aftermath of the war, but her artistic practice is not easily curtailed to one category, or even a list of categories. Her interdisciplinary approach is poetic and orchestral, regardless of the medium she is working with.

[…] “What use is you and me together in a room?” Steffani Jamison asks, rhetorically, in her piece on Lorraine Hansberry’s “What Use are Flowers?” which expands on Hansberry’s eponymous unpublished story, in which a hermit survives the end of humanity and finds himself in the peculiar position of trying to describe the utility beauty once held to the planet’s few surviving children.

Maybe Trinh, who often poses questions without anticipating an answer, would respond with a line from the opening narration in her 1982 film Reassemblage: “I do not intend to speak about … just speak nearby.” This sentence resounds with a commitment to physical proximity, to the making of shared space. The use of “you and me together in a room,” in this case, is that it means that someone is there to listen when you speak.

This anthology is in many ways an invitation to listen. It’s an invitation to participate in a radical, engaged form of listening that takes on the labor of actively receiving others’ speech.

– Theadora Walsh, “Newest Wattis Anthology Invites Readers to Participate in Radical Listening,” 
June 30, 2021