ASU Center for Asian Research 2021 Annual Lecture

The Center for Asian Research at Arizona State University is honored to welcome Aihwa Ong, Professor and Robert H. Lowie Distinguished Chair in Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, to deliver this year’s Annual Lecture. The event will be held on Zoom on March 16 at 4:00 PM (Arizona time), and registration is required to attend. The registration link is available via the link below:

The ubiquity and visibility of diverse elite Asians in global spaces destabilize Western models that have long viewed things “Asian” as exotically poor and backward. I compare media images of two categories of circulating Asian elites — the super-rich and the avant garde — who variously disrupt global cultural normativity of white supremacy. The differential reception of these elite Asian subjects in cosmopolitan spaces, I suggest, reveals the workings of a racial biopolitics that pivots on contrasts of visibility/invisibility, and animal/human. Asian displays of opulent lifestyles in popular media, I argue, are generally embraced as a successful mimicry of Western forms. At the same time, to far-flung peoples of Asian ancestries, elite Asian materialist culture has become a badge of global respectability and evidence of a rising Asian global class. By contrast, in the storied realm of American museums, contemporary Chinese artists are subjected to a more rigorous test of acceptable cosmopolitanism. I discuss a famous exhibition that encountered protests and the subsequent banning of artworks deemed cruel to animals. To custodians of Western aesthetics, contemporary Chinese artists cannot escape the whiff of animals. My question is, by intruding into global spaces and upsetting Western assumptions linking race, wealth, and aesthetics, do elite Asian subjects become further ensnared in a racializing logic of humanity? The reworlding of American racial hierarchy seems ensured when representative regimes endorse the parasitic acquisition of entrenched materialism while deflecting moral claims to humanity.