Unseeing Empire

Photography, Representation, South Asian America

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 51 illustrations, incl. 19 in color Published: December 2020

Author: Bakirathi Mani

Art and Visual Culture > Photography, Asian American Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In Unseeing Empire Bakirathi Mani examines how empire continues to haunt South Asian American visual cultures. Weaving close readings of fine art together with archival research and ethnographic fieldwork at museums and galleries across South Asia and North America, Mani outlines the visual and affective relationships between South Asian diasporic artists, their photographic work, and their viewers. She notes that the desire for South Asian Americans to see visual representations of themselves is rooted in the use of photography as a form of colonial documentation and surveillance. She examines fine art photography by South Asian diasporic artists who employ aesthetic strategies such as duplication and alteration that run counter to viewers' demands for greater visibility. These works fail to deliver on viewers' desires to see themselves, producing instead feelings of alienation, estrangement, and loss. These feelings, Mani contends, allow viewers to question their own visibility as South Asian Americans in U.S. public culture and to reflect on their desires to be represented.


“Bakirathi Mani demands that we expand the geographic and temporal frame through which to grasp South Asian American representation so that we can engage with the processes of U.S. settler colonialism and racialization. Unseeing Empire makes an outstanding contribution to Asian American and South Asian diaspora and visual culture studies.” — Gayatri Gopinath, author of Unruly Visions: The Aesthetic Practices of Queer Diaspora

“Beautifully written, meticulously crafted, and combining powerful personal reflection with rigorous scholarship, Unseeing Empire brings various sets of photographic archives and practices of the early twenty-first century into conversation, from fine art photography and vernacular images to ethnographic pictures. This impressive book makes a vital contribution to several fields, including contemporary art and visual culture studies, museum and curatorial studies, postcolonial theory, and Asian American and American studies.” — Nicole R. Fleetwood, author of Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Bakirathi Mani is Professor of English Literature at Swarthmore College and author of Aspiring to Home: South Asians in America.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations  ix
Acknowledgments  xi
Introduction. The Work of Seeing: Photography and Representation in Diaspora  1
1. Uncanny Feelings: Diasporic Mimesis in Seher Shah's Geometric Landscapes and the Spectacle of Force  33
2. Representation in the Colonial Archive: Annu Palakunnathu Matthew's An Indian from India  70
3. Exhibiting Immigrants: Visuality, Visibility, and Representation at Beyond Bollywood  119
4. Archives of Diaspora: Gauri Gill's The Americans  159
Epilogue. Curating Photography Seeing Community
Notes  215
Bibliography  245
Index  261
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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