Unsettled Visions

Contemporary Asian American Artists and the Social Imaginary

Unsettled Visions


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Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 65 color illustrations Published: January 2009

Author: Margo Machida

American Studies, Art and Visual Culture, Asian American Studies

In Unsettled Visions, the activist, curator, and scholar Margo Machida presents a pioneering, in-depth exploration of contemporary Asian American visual art. Machida focuses on works produced during the watershed 1990s, when surging Asian immigration had significantly altered the demographic, cultural, and political contours of Asian America, and a renaissance in Asian American art and visual culture was well underway. Machida conducted extensive interviews with ten artists working during this transformative period: women and men of Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese descent, most of whom migrated to the United States. In dialogue with the artists, Machida illuminates and contextualizes the origins of and intent behind bodies of their work. Unsettled Visions is an engrossing look at a vital art scene and a subtle account of the multiple, shifting meanings of “Asianness” in Asian American art.

Analyses of the work of individual artists are grouped around three major themes that Asian American artists engaged with during the 1990s: representations of the Other; social memory and trauma; and migration, diaspora, and sense of place. Machida considers the work of the photographers Pipo Nguyen-duy and Hanh Thi Pham, the printmaker and sculptor Zarina Hashmi, and installations by the artists Tomie Arai, Ming Fay, and Yong Soon Min. She examines the work of Marlon Fuentes, whose films and photographs play with the stereotyping conventions of visual anthropology, and prints in which Allan deSouza addresses the persistence of Orientalism in American popular culture. Machida reflects on Kristine Aono’s museum installations embodying the multigenerational effects of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and on Y. David Chung’s representations of urban spaces transformed by migration in works ranging from large-scale charcoal drawings to multimedia installations and an “electronic rap opera.”


Unsettled Visions documents the compelling work of contemporary Asian American artists challenging and critiquing issues of racial identity and representation. . . . [A] valuable contribution to the growing area of scholarship in Asian American visual art. . . .” — Rose M. Kim, Visual Studies

“Machida explains that this book is intended to contribute to a dialogue amongst artists and scholars regarding the issues of art and the Asian American Diaspora. As an academic (Associate Professor of Art History and Asian American Studies at the University of Connecticut) and an author, she contextualizes herself as an actor in this dialogue, an approach that is quite compelling. This book would be particularly appropriate for upper level discussion seminars on issues relating to historical and critical theory, as well as Asian American art. Machida’s exploration of the issues also provides a starting point for future Asian American exhibitions and food for thought for curatorship in this area.” — Heather Kline , ARLIS/NA Reviews

“Margo Machida’s Unsettled Visions suggests a refreshingly useful way to study ethnicity. . . . This book will appeal to a wide variety of scholars interested in visual, cultural, and spatial practices, Asian American and ethnic studies, visual culture, cultural studies, material culture, performance studies, and architecture.” — Arijit Sen, Journal of American Ethnic History

“This solid and remarkable volume should be essential reading for those interested in critical race theory and visual cultures, and is sure to encourage further study of these artists.” — Alexandra Chang, Woman's Art Journal

Unsettled Visions is an engaging and extremely significant book beyond the fact that it is the first study to examine Asian American visual productions in a systematic way. It sets a high standard and will be the model for works that follow.” — Gary Y. Okihiro, author of The Columbia Guide to Asian American History

“For years, Margo Machida was practically the only person to bring Asian American artists into what were then the ‘multicultural’ debates, and the only writer/participant to cover their activities and art with a high degree of social vision and intellectual passion. With Unsettled Visions, she has produced a work of amazing breadth, positioning each artist’s work in an internationally historical, political, and theoretical context that considerably deepens my own understanding of art I have been familiar with for years.” — Lucy R. Lippard, author of Mixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural America

“This is a foundational text for appreciating and interpreting contemporary Asian American art. It is an intelligent and intelligible work built on many years of dedicated research and original thinking. Margo Machida has obviously been inspired by deep encounters with the art emanating from this marvelously complex demographic. Unsettled Visions has set the standard for the field.” — Franklin Odo, Director, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Margo Machida is Associate Professor of Art History and Asian American Studies at the University of Connecticut. She is a co-editor of Fresh Talk/Daring Gazes: Conversations on Asian American Art, winner of the Association of Asian American Studies’ 2005 Cultural Studies Book Award. Machida curated the groundbreaking 1994 Asia Society group exhibition ASIA/AMERICA: Identities in Contemporary Asian American Art. She is a co-founder of the Asian Contemporary Art Consortium and Godzilla: Asian American Art Network (1990–2001).

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Preface xiii

Acknowledgments xix

Introduction: Art, Asian America, and the Social Imaginary: A Poetics of Positionality 1

1. A Play of Positionalities: Reconsidering Identification 17

2. Othering: Primitivism, Orientalism, and Stereotyping 57

3. Trauma, Social Memory, and Art 120

4. Migration, Mixing, and Place 194

Epilogue: Toward an Ongoing Dialogue 271

Notes 283

Bibliography 321

Index 353
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Margo Machida is the recipient of the 2009 Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4204-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4187-1
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