Search Engines | "Asian futures, without Asians" with Astria Suparak

"Asian futures, without Asians" is a multimedia presentation by artist and curator Astria Suparak, which asks: “What does it mean when so many white filmmakers envision futures inflected by Asian culture, but devoid of actual Asian people?”

The first iteration of Asian futures, without Asians was an online performance commissioned by The Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, as part of their Trinh T. Minh-ha season. The project has developed over a series of live performances made for the Zoom camera and for in-person, with script, imagery, costuming, and backdrops tailored to each arts institution and country in which it is presented. As part of the inaugural season of the Digital Studies Institute and the DISCO Network’s Search Engines series, Astria Suparak will present a new, live multimedia performance edition of the project for the University of Michigan and for our broader community.

Part critical analysis, part reflective essay and sprinkled throughout with humor, justified anger, and informative morsels, this hour-long illustrated lecture examines nearly 60 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 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 performance lecture is interspersed with selected images and clips from dozens of futuristic movies and television shows, as Suparak delivers anecdotes, trivia, and historical documents (including photographs, advertisements, and cultural artifacts) from the histories of film, art, architecture, design, fashion, food, and martial arts.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.

Artist Bio:

Astria Suparak is an artist, writer, and curator based in Oakland, California.

Her cross-disciplinary projects address complex and urgent issues (like institutionalized racism, feminisms and gender, and colonialism) made accessible through a popular culture lens, such as science fiction movies, rock music, and sports. Straddling creative and scholarly work, the projects often take the form of publicly available tools and databases, chronicling subcultures and omitted perspectives.

Over the last year Suparak’s creative projects have been exhibited and performed at the Museum of Modern Art and the Ford Foundation Gallery in New York; Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and as part of the For Freedoms billboard series. She has curated exhibitions, screenings, and performances for the Liverpool Biennial; Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City; The Kitchen, Eyebeam, and MoMA PS1, in New York; and Expo Chicago, as well as for unconventional spaces, such as roller-skating rinks, sports bars, and rock clubs. Suparak is the winner of the 2022 San Francisco Bay Area Artadia Aw

Please register below to attend the session in person at the Helmet Stern Auditorium at the University of Michigan Museum of Art located at 525 S. State St.

Accommodations: We want to make our events accessible to all participants. CART services will be provided. If you anticipate needing accommodations to participate, please email Giselle Mills at Please note that some accommodations must be arranged in advance and we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

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Helmet Stern Auditorium
Astria Suparak
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