High-Tech Orientalism and Science Fiction Futures in Astria Suparak’s "Virtually Asian" (2021)

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Kaitlin Forcier


Multimedia artist Astria Suparak’s short video essay, Virtually Asian (2021) presents an astute critique of the racism embedded in pop-culture imaginings of the future. Weaving together footage culled from forty years of science fiction blockbusters, the supercut reveals not only how Asian actors have been used as an orientalist backdrop for white characters in these films, but that these Asian bodies are often dematerialized, represented as projections, holograms, and digital images. The piece comprises a trenchant follow-up to scholar Wendy Chun’s observations about “High-tech Orientalism,” a trope which represents a technologically-advanced future as an exotic Asian landscape. Commissioned by the Berkeley Art Center as part of an online exhibition launched while the gallery was closed by the pandemic, Virtually Asian is part of Suparak's ongoing project, “Asian futures, without Asians.” Despite its sharp critique, Virtually Asian ultimately strikes a hopeful tone. These are after all collective visions of the future: we have the capacity to imagine futures that are less racist, less sexist, more accurate reflections of the world we hope to inhabit.

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