Kailani Polzak

Kailani Polzak’s research focuses on European visual culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with particular attention to histories of science, aesthetic philosophy, race, colonialism, and intercultural contact in Oceania. Her current book project, “Difference Over Distance: Visualizing Contact between Europe and Oceania,” examines the graphic and printed works created in relation to so-called “Voyages of Discovery” conducted by Britain, France, and Russia in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaiʻi in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and traces how these pictures were marshaled in arguments about the origins of human difference in Europe. She also maintains a methodological interest in the questions raised by writing about and curating colonial histories from multiple perspectives. To that end, she co-curated an exhibition with Sonnet Kekilia Coggins, “ʻThe Field is The World’: Williams, Hawaiʻi, and Material Histories in the Making,” at the Williams College Museum of Art in 2018.

Alexis L. Boylan

Alexis L. Boylan is the director of academic affairs of the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute (UCHI) and a professor with a joint appointment in the Art and Art History Department and the Africana Studies Institute. She is the author of Visual Culture (MIT Press, 2020), Ashcan Art, Whiteness, and the Unspectacular Man (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), co-author of Furious Feminisms: Alternate Routes on Mad Max: Fury Road (University of Minnesota, 2020), editor ofThomas Kinkade, The Artist in the Mall (Duke University Press, 2011), and editor of the forthcoming Ellen Emmet Rand: Gender, Art, and Business (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020). She has published in American ArtArchives of American Art Journal, Boston ReviewJournal of Curatorial Studies, and Public Books. Her next book focuses on the art created for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City and how art and science antagonize and inspire cultural dialogues about truth and knowledge. https://art.uconn.edu/person/alexis-boylan/

Gallery

Photogrammetry and Zhongshan Pavilion: Reconstructing Urban Memory of the Wenxi Fire

Haoran Chang

In accordance with the government’s scorched-earth policy, on November 12, 1938, a devastating fire was started in the city of Changsha, China. This military strategy calls for the intentional burning and destruction of all valuable resources, such as buildings, food, and transportation infrastructure, to prevent the invading enemy from utilizing them. During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), the governor of Changsha followed instructions from the Nationalist government to execute this scorched-earth policy. Yet officials mistakenly initiated the fire too quickly and destroyed the more-than-three-thousand-year-old city. In this fire, thousands of people lost their lives, and the majority of the city’s buildings were destroyed. Referred to today as the Changsha Fire of 1938, or the Wenxi Fire, this event left Changsha one of the most damaged cities during World War II, alongside Stalingrad, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Zhongshan Pavilion is one of the few architectural structures that survived the 1938 Wenxi Fire. As technology widely applied in cultural preservation, photogrammetry can play a significant role in preserving this structure for future generations. Yet this project intends to further the conversation about the role of photogrammetry in memory preservation by considering the Zhongshan Pavilion as a heterogeneous site. The resulting virtual 3-D model opens new potentialities in challenging historical narratives that are told in the singular voice (the state’s) as presented at the physical site in Changsha. Rather than following the path of criticizing digitalization as an extension and magnification of fragmentedness and rootlessness, the constructed virtual 3-D model of Zhongshan Pavilion may expand the fixed and structured memory preserved in the physical location and bring vitality to the preservation of multiple memories in a new kind of public space.

Click this link to access Chang’s full artist statement.

Haoran Chang is a multidisciplinary artist who uses video installation, virtual reality, and digital print to explore the social construction and digital mediation in contemporary society. Chang is also the founder of Chameleon Gallery, an online virtual reality contemporary art gallery that focuses on bridging traditional media and virtual reality in creating, exhibiting, and distributing art.

The Trophy and The Appeal: Colonial Photography and the Ghosts of Witnessing in German Southwest Africa

JB Brager

To work with images of atrocity is a fraught project. Sedimented constructs shaped through racist and settler colonial violence continue to define the production and consumption of the visual, as well as memory practice and scopic politics. These retinal sedimentations must be looked at plainly and addressed openly, to name the ways in which history and identity shape the function of the eye. I turn to the understudied visual archive of German colonialism in South West Africa, with an emphasis on colonial photography, with the aim of tying the visuality of colonial violence in German South West Africa to broader studies of colonial photography, images of racial violence, and the ways in which these images circulated as discourse. I am particularly concerned with the location of witnessing, and the ways in which things look differently from different positions—what I refer to through the concept of parallax—and the effects of this on visual consumption. Images of violence travel, through a visceral witnessing that can be grotesquely pornographic—in the words of Claudia Rankine, “the dead body as an object that satisfies an illicit desire”—or evidentiary. I use viscerality in this context to think about a methodology of witnessing that attends to embodiment, experience, and feeling. The resignification of images, however didactic and captioned, depends on the eye and the gut of the viewer—the transhistorical viewer is not a passive or innocent witness. This is especially important in the context of the pornotroping tendency of white supremacist culture to fetishize the image, particularly of Black injury and death, and the ability of images of violence to re-traumatize survivors.

Click this link to access the full article.

JB Brager is a founding editor of Pinko Magazine, a working cartoonist, and an instructor of history and Women’s & Gender Studies. They received a PhD in Women’s & Gender Studies from Rutgers University, New Brunswick in 2018; this article is adapted from their dissertation, Bodies of Evidence: The Image, The Flesh, and the Crisis of the Human. They can be found online at https://www.jbbrager.com/ and on social media @jbbrager.

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Bloodlines, Kinship

Hilary A. Short

Bloodlines is a 228-inch-long installation made horizontally in Microsoft Excel and then rotated 90 degrees to create a dripping or oozing effect down the wall. It began as an inquiry into naming and the organizational hierarchy of the family tree. The tree serves as a symbol of nature, an inherited organizer used to display relational hierarchies of time and power, enacted subsequently through myriad metaphors. If the medium is the message, the tree is the medium that validates the family as a natural hierarchical entity positioned in linear time. The tree is, and has been, an omnipresent symbol for how we order and understand relationships—tying together “nature” and “order” in our collective understanding of the family. Contemporary genealogical practices carried out on websites like Ancestry.com uphold hetero status markers of the family vis-à-vis patrilineal threads while privileging records of white lineages. Documents, or “records,” serve as archival evidence in this online database—thus archival evidence reflects social ties and social hierarchies. In this way, using Ancestry.com to gather family data and Excel to hold said data is revealing what was always there—the tree as disassociated from, but disingenuously carrying forth, our belief that nature is unquestionable.


Kinship is an A1 poster depicting “spheres of memories”—memories associated with “inherited” objects—tethered to physical points around my home, which is drawn as a blueprint. Each sphere is surrounded by a fuzziness, as a translation of uncertainty and precarity around truth and knowledge. In Bloodlines, the “document” or “record” carries forth the archival evidence of the state. Here, in a domestic space, familial objects take on that role. Emanating from them (the objects) are stories; memories of passed time and past relations, and I am their captive subject. Objects like these are passed down through bloodlines enforcing genetic logics of inheritance and pulling them, discontinuously, into affective and temporal relations between the original owner and the current one. 

Click this link to access Short’s full artist statement.

Hilary A. Short is a writer and designer. Currently at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she is both working towards a MA in Design Criticism and is the Art Director for the Office of Diversity’s Inclusive Classroom Initiative. Her work considers the roles and structures in society—highlighting the struggle between personal agency and pre-determinism. Within a feminist framework, she explores relationships to our own bodies, objects, and memories all while trying to keep a sense of humor over wondering whether or not we have control over anything. Hilary holds a MDes in Graphic Design and a BA in Sociology. Whatthehilary.com.

Power Geometry in Urban Memory: Reading Taksim Square Through the Concept of Representation of Space

Ceren Göǧüş and Asiye Akgün Gültekin

Taksim Square, 2003. Image Courtesy of Writers Archive.

Can memory be manipulated? How far can the will to remember resist the manipulation of the hierarchy? Isolation and exclusion are still useful as disciplinary tools of power. Since this is the case, what role do so-called public spaces serve in memorializing certain isolated histories while separating and thus excluding others? If memory spaces exist in correlation with loss of memory, can searching for traces underneath the layers be the worst enemy of forgetting? How can the search for traces in official spatial histories reveal whose memory is being prioritized as truthful historical account and whose memory has been forgotten? Official spatial histories demand that certain memories are forgotten and thus delegitimized; does this render the readings of spaces as alternative memorialization meaningless? If so, does trying to create memory spaces cause monumentality independent from memory? Does the very act of formalizing spaces of memory create a certain monumentality independent from those who remember it? How will urban geographies, condemned to be symbolic spaces of politics, resist this?

Click this link to access the full article.

Ceren Göǧüş is Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of İstanbul Kültür University. She received her Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in History of Architecture Program from İstanbul Technical University. Her major research interests include 19th century world exhibitions, monument architecture, 19th century Ottoman architecture and westernization period in Ottoman Empire with its effects on architecture.

Asiye Akgün Gültekin is Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of İstanbul Kültür University. She received her Ph.D. in Architectural Design Programme from İstanbul Technical University in 2012. Her major research interests include urban segregation, spatial exclusion, and economic policy of space, social space issues.

The cover of Ly's book, a central off-white circle with the title "Traces of Trauma" encircled by vessels on a black background.

Interview with Boreth Ly on Her New Book, Traces of Trauma

Boreth Ly, Catherine Ries, Michelle Yee, Christina Ayson-Plank

Boreth Ly’s latest book is Traces of Trauma: Cambodian Visual Culture and National Identity in the Aftermath of Genocide (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2020.) This is a complex book, to say the least. It is not the type of book just anyone could write. Professor Boreth explores how the artistic practices of contemporary Cambodian artists at home and in the diaspora—including installation artists, painters, photographers, filmmakers, poets, and court dancers—give voice to a culturally specific understanding of trauma and how they found ways to live after the civil war, US secret bombings, and Khmer Rouge genocide. Her background, experiences, and intellectual fortitude make her uniquely capable of formulating discreet and meaningful connections across different art forms and objects. We admire the way Professor Boreth can intellectualize and theorize but not erase the emotional anguish that grounds the creation of these works of art. She is not afraid of her humanity. Moreover, she is not afraid to make it personal.

That is why we, Professor Boreth’s graduate student advisees, came to work with her at UC Santa Cruz. She emboldens us to ask difficult questions and challenge the status quo. She asks us to test disciplinary boundaries by expanding our perceptions of the visual both materially and experientially. We are encouraged to embrace the fragmentation inherent in all subject matter and to reject the belief that knowledge and knowing are clean, complete, and finished. Professor Boreth’s scholarship is founded on the idea that leaving scholarly inquiry open and unresolved creates pathways for more meaningful and profound understandings. And we agree.

In this way, Traces of Trauma is emblematic of our relationship with Professor Boreth. The shattering of traditional notions of what is considered “fine art” in Traces of Trauma reveals the culturally specific ways that art and its histories are oftentimes structured. For us, as visual studies students, the book is an innovative example of how visual culture, as a field of inclusive yet critical study, can manifest in a way that not only reveals the arbitrariness of hierarchies but actively works to dismantle them. 

While the three of us maintain some similarities in our scholarly approach, we study vastly different subject matters. Yet for all of us, Traces of Trauma is a relevant launching pad from which to theorize and approach our respective research interests. This book can be used as a comparative study with other histories and cultures as a way to theorize and understand visual culture, trauma, its effects and affects, in both homelands and diasporas. 

For instance, Christina Ayson Plank studies contemporary art of the Filipinx diaspora. She is interested in the effects of Spanish and American imperialism on the displacement of contemporary Filipinx communities as it relates to issues of labor. Her work necessitates a fragmentation of Asian American studies in order to explore how an interrogation of race, empire, and labor disrupts an inclusion/exclusion binary. Studying the Filipinx diaspora expands and disrupts nation-state categorizations and American exceptionalism. She is interested in translating this research into a critical curatorial practice. 

Catherine Ries studies Islamic art, material culture, performing arts, and gender in Southeast Asia. Her current focus is the theorization of female representations and self-representations in light of changes in Javanese Islam. The impetus of her inquiry stems from her curiosity in materials and materiality, the connections between performance, religious identities, and its expression, as seen through both the lenses of globalization and localization of Islam in Java.

Michelle Yee studies race and representation in American art and considers how notions of Americanness are inscribed in visual production from painting and sculpture to Hollywood movies and stand-up comedy. Her focus on Asian American visual production seeks to interrogate the racial definitions that define “Asian Americanness,” an impossible identity that nevertheless finds its marks and its signifiers in the lived experiences of the artists and performers. This focus forces Americanness itself—as a national identity, a way of living, a type of appearance, and so forth—into stark relief, thus revealing its shattered and complex reality. 

It takes an intellectually versatile and interdisciplinary scholar to advise students across such diverse areas of focus. Professor Boreth’s fierce embrace of interdisciplinary work, and aversion to disciplinary restrictions used to create intellectual boundaries, makes her an adviser who can deftly guide each of us in our respective areas. We believe this comes across in our interview, as we draw our questions from our individual perspectives and scholarly inquiries. The flow of this interview may indeed feel fragmented, but fragments do not mean there is no continuity or connection. By understanding the world through fragments, we are forced to confront the spaces in between, to engage beyond one moment, one object, one event, and think about how the pieces are in conversation with each other—a way to confront the existential implications for any subject of scholarly inquiry and eventually arrive at catharsis.

We are delighted and honored to engage with our adviser about her haunting yet inspirational book. We hope that our questions illuminate the profound reach of her scholarly endeavors and encourage you to explore her inquiries on trauma and visual culture in the Cambodian diaspora. This interview cannot fully express our gratitude for the opportunity to work with Professor Boreth and the concerted effort she puts into forming a meaningful bond with each of us. Our time as her advisees is defined by critical discourse, deep belly laughs, and the kind of conversation that evokes and inspires intellectual inquiry all against a backdrop of beauty and pleasure. Over the summer of 2020, a year marked by social distancing and digital gatherings, our introduction and this interview unfolded over several collaborative online Zoom meetings between ourselves and Professor Boreth. Even though we cannot be physically together right now, we are grateful for the emails, online meetings, and phone calls that keep us connected. We look forward to the future when we can once again enjoy tea and conversation in her patio garden. 


Christina Ayson Plank, Catherine Ries, Michelle Yee: This particular issue of Refract is devoted to “traces,” and your book is titled Traces of Trauma. How do you define traces in your particular context?

Boreth Ly: Thank you for these thoughtful and provocative questions.

My book considers local Cambodian understanding and definitions of trauma. Traces in this context encompasses a translation of the Khmer word snarm, which means both a scar and footprint. Traces also include the Khmer concept of baksbat, literally meaning “broken body,” leading to the broken spirit or mind. Importantly, my discussion of traces of trauma in Cambodia is grounded in both local Cambodian and continental theoretical understandings of these residues.

CR: The word traces suggests the subtle indication of something; traces can also refer to origins. Can you expand more on the traces that are left in the archive and how destruction, invisibility, and these vestiges of trauma amalgamate to rewrite historical narratives?

BL: Cambodian artists at home and in the diasporas turned to their personal and collective memories of the atrocities (the American bombing, civil war, and the Khmer Rouge genocide) to remember and address the legacy of trauma. Memory is one of the intangible archives and thus the repository for these obdurate traces. The arts discussed and analyzed in my book are inspired by and made of both collective and personal archives. For example, in her art, Amy Lee Sanford integrated letters that her late father wrote to her adopted white American mother. Likewise, Rithy Panh, a Cambodian French filmmaker who is a survivor of the genocide, relies on his own memory of the historical events as well as making use of the Khmer Rouge filmic archives. Sarith Peou, a Cambodian American poet who is incarcerated in a US prison, recounts his memory of those brutal years under the Khmer Rouge regime. Moreover, Cambodian artists also looked at bomb craters left by the American bombing of Cambodia, scars of the land that are equally potent parts of the national archive.

CAP: Your book analyzes different visual materials from performance, painting, film, and material culture. Can you explain your process in selecting these materials? 

BL: Since the subject of my book considers historical and culturally specific ways of understanding trauma, my selection of media and materials was based around two focal points. First, I turned to what Cambodians value most as artistic expressions. In this case, that meant court dance, textiles, sculptures, and poetry, as well as film and photography. Second, since the production of Cambodian arts and culture underwent great interruption and erasure under the Khmer Rouge regime (when many artists were murdered), my choice of artistic materials was limited in the postgenocide period. As I mentioned in the introduction to my book, global contemporary art in Cambodia and the diasporas started in the 1990s, so we are considering relatively new art forms.

CAP and MY: In light of recent events in the United States and the world related to Black Lives Matter, it has become evident that historical traumas are simultaneously both of the past and of the present. How does the Cambodian American experience speak to the relationship between trauma and race? 

BL: Even though the historical conditions for these events are different, the legacy of these deeply politicized forms of historical traumas continue to haunt the lives of survivors, perpetrators, and their descendants. As I discussed in my book, one of the difficult challenges for survivors and their descendants is to see the perpetrators of the genocide living and holding high positions in the current Cambodian government. I see a parallel between the commemorative statues and monuments celebrating the racist regime in the United States and the erection of monuments and statues to celebrate members of the current political regime in Cambodia who participated in the Khmer Rouge genocide.

MY: Theories of trauma have always been predicated upon complex temporalities. Similarly, in your last chapter on Cambodian court dance, the simultaneous expansion and collapse of time is evident in this art form, which harks back to a past while also being reimagined for the present and the future. It is contemporary and historical. Can you speak further to the transcendence of static notions of time in both Cambodian court dance and in Cambodian art production more generally?  

BL: I think in the West, there is an accepted understanding that history belongs to the past and the exact tenses as precise markers of time are arguably inherent in many European languages (such as the present, past, and future), but in the Khmer language (and I believe in many Asian languages) the measurement of time is not as precise. Moreover, what I was trying to articulate is embodied by what is commonly referred to as “tradition,” art forms that are passed down from generation to generation with or without written words. Despite the fact that the Pol Pot regime interrupted artistic traditions by murdering a majority of the nation’s artists, Cambodian artists managed to remember and to retrace traditional court dance through the memories and bodies of a few survivors. Court dance is transmitted through the body, using both mental and muscle memories, so it is truly an embodied experience. In addition to memory and the body, Cambodians draw upon ancient arts and legends as inspiration for their arts and dances. In brief, the line drawn between myth, memory, and history is cheerfully blurred.

Clearly, the production and understanding of arts and temporality are different in Cambodian culture. I was academically trained in the discipline of art history, and I had to unlearn in order to relearn. Aesthetically, there is a close relationship between court dance and the visual arts. However, in Euro-American universities, dance belongs to the fields of theater or performing arts departments, and not art history. I had to learn the history and practice of Cambodian court dance in order to write about it and do justice to what Cambodians value as arts. To this end, the interdisciplinary and decolonized space within the History of Art and Visual Culture Department at UC Santa Cruz allows me to carry out this much-needed decolonization of methods and approaches to the writing of arts and visual culture.

CR: Given the Khmer Rouge’s rejection of the arts and intellectualism, and that they murdered anyone perceived as belonging to one of those categories, I find it curious that they did not destroy national artistic treasures, such as the collection at the National Museum, ancient monuments, and the Royal Palace. Do you have a theory as to why these monuments were spared?

BL: Indeed, this is a very interesting contradiction. Fortunately, they did not destroy these national treasures. Likewise, neighboring countries such as Vietnam and Laos, with histories of their own communist revolutions, did not eradicate the arts belonging to the previous regimes. Today, this older art and architecture attracts tourists. In the Cambodian context, the Khmer Rouge regime lasted three years, eight months, and twenty days: it was short-lived and only started to produce art that served its own political ideology in 1977, mainly portraits of Pol Pot, the face of the regime that I discussed in one of the chapters in my book. We know that a colossal statue of Pol Pot was to be placed on top of the hill called Wat Phnom, an important landmark in Phnom Penh with Buddhist temple perched on top. There was a plan to destroy this Buddhist temple and replace it with this monumental statue of Pol Pot. This plan suggests that the regime had intended to replace some of the public monuments and temples belonging to the previous regimes with their own art. I think had the regime lasted longer, one might imagine that the city of Phnom Penh would have looked more like the capitals of North Korea or China, with buildings and statues celebrating its victory and its leaders such as Kim Il Sung and Kim Jung Il and Mao Zedong.

CR: As you mentioned in your book, the Khmer Rouge genocide is a recent traumatic event, meaning there are people alive today who survived this horrific era. There is also a younger generation who did not live the trauma, but instead inherited the trauma. There are similarities between the Khmer Rouge genocide and the 1965 mass killings in Indonesia, not only because they are recent traumas, but because both are autogenocide. Many Indonesians who survived the trauma are still not willing to talk about their experience, mostly perhaps because of suppression during Suharto’s regime; this horrific event is still largely absent from textbooks and official history. In Cambodia, is the Khmer Rouge genocide incorporated into the national narratives and history? In general, is there a desire to talk about these events as a method to assuage trauma, or is there a generational divide between those who lived it and those who inherited the trauma? Are the artists in your book who use their work openly as a form of healing representative of the cultural ideology at large, or is that openness more of an anomaly?

BL: This is a provocative question in that it provokes comparison with other atrocities around the world. Even though my book is about historical trauma and its legacy in Cambodia, I hope it will be read widely and comparatively with similar genocides in different parts of the world.

In the post–Khmer Rouge era, Cambodia markets two major tourist attractions: the ancient temples of Angkor and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the killing fields. Yes, the history of the genocide is taught in schools in Cambodia, but as it is expected, the “official” version of history is written by the victors, so it is highly politicized. Naturally, there is still a strong resentment and conflict between the perpetrators and their descendants and survivors and their descendants who live in Cambodia and the diasporas. Interestingly, the younger generation of Cambodians (who did not experience the genocide firsthand but were born in the refugee camps or in the US and European countries) are strongly affected by the trauma that their parents experienced. I think their parents’ displacement might be the reason for this experience of inherited trauma, especially some of the younger generation of Cambodian Americans who were born in the refugee camps.

The artists included in my book are those whose lives are affected and changed forever by the atrocities, so they have chosen to address the legacy of trauma and healing in their works. Of course, there are Cambodian artists who have chosen to move forward and address other social issues such as ecology and climate change or attempt to come up with formal innovation such as their own localized versions of minimalism and abstract expressionism. There are also Cambodian women artists who address the issue of gender in Cambodian culture, a topic that I considered in a recent article. 

CAP: Your book analyzes the ways Cambodian artists of the diaspora negotiate the history of genocide, displacement, survival, and the resulting trauma. Do you think these histories necessitate a new understanding of Asian America that attends to these diasporic communities?

BL: Yes, absolutely. Arguably, many Americans’ initial exposure to Southeast Asia is through the Vietnam War. It was a war that had a great effect on American visual culture, especially film and photography. It is this and other civil wars in Southeast Asia that engendered the emergence of Southeast Asian American artists in the US who are great players in the national and global art world: I am thinking of Dinh Q. Lê, Sopheap Pich, Binh Danh, Amy Lee Sanford, Anida Yoeu Ali, and many more emerging artists from the Hmong and Laotian American communities. These Southeast Asian American artists interrupt the narrative of “Asian American art history” in that they stretch beyond the fight for inclusion; they are creating and exhibiting their work in their respective homelands, diasporas, and global spaces. To wit, they inhabit multiple spaces, and their ethnic and racial identity is not fixed—they are cosmopolitan Asian and American or American and Asian.

However, in the past two decades, there is a tendency in the US to focus on Asian American and diasporic artists in the transpacific region. I think it is important to avoid perpetuating an American imperialism, regionalism, and an Asian colonial settlerism. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to include Southeast Asian diasporic communities in Europe and other continents in our discussion, writing, and exhibition. With the exception of Thailand, all Southeast Asian countries were colonized by European powers. Thus one cannot discuss the Cambodian or Filipinx diaspora without considering diasporic artists in France and Spain. I often imagine a traveling art exhibition by Filipinx diasporic artists from different diasporas around the world and how it would lend itself for a comparative study of art, labor, migration, and diasporas.

MY: For many scholars of color in the United States, it feels unspoken and yet imperative to maintain a mantle of positive representation because of the continual marginalization of minority narratives. In your book—particularly, in the preface—you are brutally honest in your critique of contemporary Cambodian society, a refreshing positionality that offers a nuanced, antimonolithic consideration of a multidimensional culture. Can you speak to the value—and the risk—of being honest about the societies from which we come? How can scholars of color maintain and build political strength while resisting the tendency to overgeneralize? 

BL: Indeed, how to negotiate and nuance this politics of racial and ethnic representations is a great challenge. While it is important to form a political coalition to resist ethnic, racial, and gender marginalization, there is always a sense of nesting “an other within an other”; it is thus necessary to resist any kind of racial generalization and racial and ethnic sovereignty. I think one can embrace what Gayatri Spivak has called “strategic essentialism” and, at the same time, vigilantly resist hegemonic and monolithic racial or ethnic voices. For instance, Southeast Asian Americans are obviously not members of a homogeneous community but are divided between social class and ethnic groups. In brief, not all Asian Americans are a minority model of success.

Click this link to access a PDF of the interview.

Boreth Ly is an associate professor of Southeast Asian art history and visual culture at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She coedited with Nora A. Taylor, Modern and Contemporary Art of Southeast Asia (2012).In addition, she has written numerous articles and essays on the arts and films of Southeast Asia and its diaspora. Academically trained as an art historian, Ly employs multidisciplinary methods and theories in her writings and analysis, depending on the subject matter. Last, she authored, Traces of Trauma: Cambodian Visual Culture and National Identity in the Aftermath of Genocide (University of Hawai’i Press, 2020).

Catherine Ries is a Ph.D. student and a Eugene Cota-Robles fellow in the Visual Studies program in the History of Art & Visual Culture department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her current research focuses on Islamic art, material culture, performing arts, and feminine identity in Indonesia. She is preparing for field research that will lead to a dissertation on female representations in the Islamic courts of Java.

Michelle Yee is a Ph.D. candidate in Visual Studies in the History of Art and Visual Culture Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  Her dissertation examines race and representation through the visual culture of Asian American artists and performers.  Michelle holds an MA in Art History from the University of Connecticut and a BA in Art History and English from Georgetown University.  She has taught at Queens College, UC Santa Cruz, and the San Francisco Art Institute. Her writing can be found in Third TextPanoramaArt, Etc., and various exhibition catalogues.

Christina Ayson-Plank is an emerging scholar, educator, and curator based in San Jose, California. She is a Ph.D. student at UCSC in the Visual Culture Studies department. Her research focuses on contemporary art of the Filipinx diaspora as it relates to issues of neocolonialism, labor, and migration. She received an M.A. in Asian American Studies at UCLA and a B.A. in Art History and Studio Art at Marist College.

Mining Things: Confronting Loss and Flux in the Slate Industry Ruins of Northwest Wales

Seb Wigdel-Bowcott

Returning to a familiar environment after a prolonged absence has a strange way of pulling features out from their habitualness. This was my experience during a visit to the ruins on level 9 of Rhosydd Quarry, which formed part of a walk with friends on the mountain, Cnicht, and surrounding Cwm Croesor, while on a visit back to the area of northwest Wales where I grew up. The physical traces of the slate industry that had occupied a seamless place among my everyday surroundings now seemed to demand a recognition of a certain out-of-placeness. What I previously understood as the idiosyncrasies of a landscape shaped by a formerly world-leading national industry, I now saw as geological scars that stand as monuments to an industrial capitalism that exited as aggressively as it imposed itself, testifying to its remarkable ability to reshape environments both physical and social.

Click this link to access the full article.

Seb Widgel-Bowcott is a research MA student following the Cultural Analysis programme in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Amsterdam. His research interests hover loosely around a few nodes – aesthetics, politics and technology; British nationalism(s); borders and migration; and curated spaces and narrative..

White Shoals, White Shrouds: Reflections on the Ethics of Looking at Captive Bodies

Axelle Toussaint

In the winter of 2018, I presented a conference paper on a set of nineteenth-century photographs from the national archive of the French colonies. The series, titled “Types Comoriens” (Comorian types), comprises seven photographs commissioned by the French École Coloniale between 1890 and 1896. The École Coloniale was a French colonial school created in 1889, and dedicated to the recruitment and training of French colonial administrators. The school was instrumental to both the institutionalization of colonial knowledge and the development of French higher education. The images are full-length portraits of seven young Comorian natives, naked, standing in front of a white background. My paper looked at the beaded strings that the indigenous islanders wore  around their waists, which I traced back to an East African puberty ritual called unyago. Subsumed in the minutiae of my anthropological analysis, I did not register the violence that had been folded into the photographic frame. Nor did I realize that I, myself, was reenacting the voyeuristic gaze of the colonial photographer by re-producing these images in my conference presentation. For the purposes of my presentation, I cropped the subjects’ naked bodies but decided to show their faces. Even then, this timid gesture seemed insufficient, uncomfortably incomplete.

Click this link to access the full article.

Axelle Toussaint is currently getting her PhD in Visual Studies at UC Santa Cruz. She holds a Master of Laws from UC Hastings College of the Law and an M.A. in Art and Design History and Theory from the New School. Her current research examines colonial and postcolonial experiences of trauma and fragmentation in the islands of the western Indian Ocean, and their mediation through visual culture, performance, and imagination..

My Love to Be Defused: Beginnings of an Ethics of Belonging through Negotiations of a National Socialist Image in Daily Life, from Infancy to Adulthood (Excerpts from Diaries Now Titled, The Responsibility of Being That Sort of Baby, March 24–July 25, 2020)

Ellen Takata

This little piece—consisting of minimally tweaked diary entries and a preface that is “finished” only as an ethical articulation of its historical moment—originally claimed to imitate cinema: by leaving you to your own anticipation of effects and application of references. It also was meant to elicit your tactile and temporal responses as a booklet on paper, for which you would control the pace of realizing its associations with your present surroundings, memories, and received knowledge (surely you have the time!). The format seems less important now, however, for those aspects of experiencing media are as important as always, so I remind you just in case.

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Ellen Takata researches forms of postwar responsibility for media, memory and emotion in the German and Japanese-speaking worlds, largely through what she terms an “ethics of belonging”: reading interconnected implications of harm and comfort through histories, literatures and imageries from (and of) various cultures in legacies of causing and receiving harm. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz.