Searching Looks

A symposium exploring visuality, minority cultural studies, and Asian American visual cultures


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Pedagogy
  • Philosophy / Theory
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Asian American Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania

Contributing Institutions


Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


100% Formal - 0% Informal

Slought and the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania are pleased to announce "Searching Looks," a two-day symposium exploring the practice and materiality of Asian American visual culture on March 31 and April 14, 2010. "Searching Looks" is a two-part series of talks which explores the practice and materiality of Asian American visual culture. In highlighting visual technologies and their repercussions within Asian America, this series proposes to examine the concept of visuality as a critical lens for understanding minority cultural studies.

Part I features an address by Anne Anlin Cheng, whose major study of the material instigations of racial feeling critically opened the field of Asian American studies. Her work has notably attended to the surface of things in interdisciplinary and innovative modes—and she has crucially marked the ways in which such appearances are bound up with racial feeling.

Part II of "Searching Looks" brings together practitioners and scholars of Asian American visual art in order to delve into questions of art history and practice, new media, and the poetics of visuality. Our focus on visual culture registers a broader shift in cultural studies, from a historicist to a more specifically material approach, and the convergence of artistic and cultural practices represented in the second part of our series raises key questions about the present state of minority cultural studies.

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Cultural theorists have been heralding and lamenting a turn to visual culture from at least the turn of the last century and within Asian American studies, a rhetoric of racial invisibility and hypervisibility has defined the field from its inception in the late 1960s. Can a serious acknowledgment of the materiality of the visual coexist with this now-familiar discourse of racial visibility? Can the metaphor of visibility in fact obscure the fact of visuality? How can we theorize visuality within a minority cultural studies framework? The materiality of the visual brings to the fore questions of medium that exist in complex relation to the different genres of artistic endeavor practiced and analyzed by our panelists. A focus on visual culture promises to bring together a range of artistic and popular disciplines—but what new differences emerge through this re-privileging of the visual, which has never been free from darker associations with spectacle, control, and hegemony? How might we attend to formal and cultural differences within a revived interest in visual cultures?

A renewed call to transnationalism is presently transforming cultural studies in the academy, and Asian American studies marks a crucial site for understanding global flows of things and bodies. At the start of the twenty-first century, how are we to see the image, firmly ensconced as a global commodity? How might we account for the material burden of economic and political determinants in visual cultures?


Wednesday, March 31, 2010 (5pm)
Keynote Address:
"Strange Skin, Subjunctive Body"
With Anne Anlin Cheng

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 (5pm)
Ways of Seeing: The Visual and Material Practice of Asian American Art
With Margo Machida, and Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, moderated by Bakirathi Mani

Desiring Images: Performing and Representing Asian American Cultures
With Patty Chang, and Mimi Nguyen, moderated by Homay King

Writing Seeing: Visuality in Asian American Poetics
With Brian Kim Stefans, and Timothy Yu, moderated by Josephine Park