Young Curators 2021

Dawn Chan Is Reframing Asiafuturism Through Exhibitions

Emmanuel Olunkwa

Dawn Chan, Independent Curator, New York.

Dawn Chan finished Yale University and wanted to become a musician, then an artist, but ended up starting as an editor at Artforum and staying on for 11 years. Since then she’s organized a few shows, and is currently writing and editing as well as working as a professor at Bard’s Center for Curatorial Studies. Lauren Cornell, who’s the director of the graduate program, was putting a team together to curate a cyberpunk-inspired show at Tai Kwun museum in Hong Kong and tapped Chan because of her experience writing on Asia-futurism: the space where the culture of the Asian diaspora overlaps with futuristic technology and aesthetics. Chan’s work primarily engages concerns of Asian-Americans. Her focus is on how Asians are erased from depictions of the present, and how that goes hand in hand with being cast and propelled into a future.

“The show for me was about including artists who were in their own way pushing back against stereotypical notions of what it means to be classified as Asian-American, or subverting or reflecting it. All of it was trying to relate that to the thorny position the art world has put Asian-Americans in, because I like to challenge people to think, myself included. If you were to ask someone to list the last five museum exhibitions they’ve seen that featured an Asian-American artist, most people can’t do it. My interest in cultural politics is unavoidable but it’s also not something that I seek out. I almost feel like I stumbled into something that people were waiting to talk about and felt was urgent when I started writing about Asiafuturism,” she says. “A huge reason why anyone who’s interested in Asiafuturism must look towards Afrofuturism has to do with the fact that so much of the thinking around Afrofuturism has to do with finding ways to restore agency, power and self-determination. I think right now so many of the Asia-futurist tropes that we encounter, at least in America, as Asian-Americans, are tainted by the imaginings of Western cultural creators who aren’t aware that there is something harmful about how they’re depicting Asian people of the future.”

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