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August 28, 2009

When Asian Still Means Oriental

I love this mock website mimicking the orientalist curating choices of San Francisco's Asian Art Museum.  Notice the tagline, Where Asian Still Means Oriental.

Flyer front
 


















Writer/video maker Valerie Soe also made an insightful comment about the site on her beyondasiaphilia blog:

Just got tipped to an excellent new intervention critiquing the San Francisco Asian Art Museum's latest orientalist extravaganza, Lords of the Samurai. My anonymous source sent me the link to Lord, it's the Samurai!, a brilliant goof on this year's summer blockbuster which replicates the show's official website with a twist--it offers a detailed, pointed, and well-researched deconstruction of the problematic exhibition. The faux-site points out the less-than-savory aspects of samurai culture that the AAM conveniently glosses over, including the militarism, slavery, pederasty and misogyny inherent in the "code of the warrior."

The ersatz site also recognizes the dangers of the exhibit's glamorization of violence, noting,

"No myth here, and it hasn't changed since the times of the samurai: it's universal and real, how war dehumanizes everyone. Aestheticizing violence, normalizing war. The museum may not want you to see it, but there is blood on those swords."

The faux-site also calls out the AAM's ongoing Asian fetish with its hilarious tagline ("Where Asian Still Means Oriental") and a fun little word-scramble that mixes up past titles from AAM exhibits to form an amalgamation of exotic Asiaphilic fantasies.

The imitation site makes a cogent connection between the Museum's soft-peddling of Japanese nationalism and the U.S. government's interest in remilitarizing Japan, which would aid the U.S. in maintaining the upper hand in Asia. The faux-site also notes that it's not the first time the AAM has backed up a superpower's questionable point of view, as seen in Tibet: Treasures from the Roof of the World, the 2005 show that gave credence to the PRC's claim that Tibet is really just the back door of China.

All told, this little fakey website is a fine, funny, and extremely effective critique that packs in a copious number of links and information. It's a companion piece to hard-copy flyers that have been distributed in public brochure racks in San Francisco's Japantown. Someone upstairs at the AAM must have twigged to the switch since, as noted in the site, the counterfeit flyers have been systematically removed and replaced with the AAM's own brochures almost as soon as they've been distributed. The fake site's gmail address was also disabled shortly after sending out its first email blast. If the museum's functionaries are so freaked out that they're furiously trying to eradicate it, then I'd have to say that the intervention is working.

Thanks to Jean Cheng, Director of Online Exhibitions of the International Museum of Women, for calling my attention to Soe's note yesterday. 
August 28, 2009 9:00 AM | | Comments (3)

3 Comments

Nice information . I am currently teaching in China and I am trying to learn as much as possible.

Interesting writing! I have applied for a teaching job in Wuhan and I hope to minimize my culture shock.

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