‘Speculative Fabulation’ at Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

Opening January 19, 2024, “Into View: New Voices, New Stories” is an exhibition of recent acquisitions by the Asian Art Museum that disrupts the dominant narratives of contemporary art by bringing the fantasies, joys, sorrows, and yearnings of primarily women-identifying and queer Asian American and Asian diaspora artists into vibrant dialogue with one another to challenge the model of a male-dominated art history. Through paintings, sculptures, ceramics, prints, video, and mixed-media works, this unique presentation places different time periods, genres, and political and social concerns into one ecosystem, subverting and reimagining art world conventions to better reflect this group of diverse artists and their diasporic communities.

“’New Voices, New Stories’ showcases artists of color inscribing themselves into longstanding traditions of form, function, and theme, meaning they can write and rewrite their own futures without subjecting themselves to the authorities of the past,” Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art & Programs Naz Cuguoglu said. “At a moment of heightened turmoil domestically and around the globe, ‘New Voices, New Stories’ feels so needed right now, entwining concepts like sexual intimacy, mythology, cosmology, political uprisings, and ecology as viable alternatives to our current systems and empowering audiences to rethink possibilities in their own lives.”

Many of the included works are from artists from the Bay Area or with ties to the region and beyond. This commitment to local and international voices is a crucial extension of the museum’s recently expanded mission to actively provide representation for the art and experiences of Asian Americans.

“With our ‘doubled’ mission and growing contemporary art program, we can bring greater visibility to those who have historically been kept in the margins, whether because of race, place of origin, gender, or sexuality,” Jay Xu, Barbara Bass Bakar Director and CEO of the Asian Art Museum, said. “By creating a platform for these artists and their work, we continue to uplift previously untold stories while expanding the potential for our audiences to see themselves and their own experiences embedded across our museum galleries. These are the ‘new voices’ and ‘new stories’ we are dedicated to sharing on a broad scale for today’s audiences and future generations.”

Throughout the exhibition, works from prominent local voices join past and present via a radical reclamation of traditional imagery. For instance, Heroine by Rupy C. Tut (she/her; b. India, 1985)—a painted reimagining of a scene from Punjabi folklore—and Nuwa’s Hands by Cathy Lu (she/her; b. United States, 1984)—a contemporary envisioning of a Chinese mother goddess, rendered in a dangling complex of ceramic forms—mingle interrogations of utopian ideals, the experience of migration, and what it means to be a woman protagonist.

Fresh approaches to well-established genres also boldly defy expectations. What appears to be a traditional Chinese landscape painting by Wu Chi-Tsung (he/him; b. Taiwan, 1981) is in fact formed from sculptural layers of crumpled, photo sensitive paper, while an experimental film by TT Takemoto (they/them; b. United States, 1967) peers beneath the surface of documentary footage of Japanese American women factory workers to reveal an inanimate atmosphere of same-sex romance.

“Within the gallery, rather than providing lengthy explanations of the artwork, we aim to create a space for viewers to gather and speculate about the as-yet-unimagined possibilities that these works and artists inspire,” Cuguoglu said.

She identifies author and professor Donna Haraway’s term “speculative fabulation” as a conceptual touchstone for the exhibition. Broadly speaking, “speculative fabulation” describes a strategy of defamiliarizing and reimagining accepted stories, ideas, and modes of thinking to arrive at new and fantastic possibilities via imaginative world-building.

“We invite audiences to actively explore what futures open up when we all share a sense of both urgency and agency regarding our own narratives,” Cuguoglu added. “The term ‘speculative fabulation’ may be new to many viewers, but it reflects the need for new language to accompany the important conceptual innovations of contemporary artists from Asia and the Asian diaspora.”

About the Asian Art Museum

Located in the heart of San Francisco, the museum is home to one of the world’s finest collections of Asian art, with more than 20,000 awe-inspiring artworks ranging from ancient jades and ceramics to contemporary video installations.

Dynamic special exhibitions, cultural celebrations and public programs for all ages provide rich art experiences that unlock the past and spark questions about the future.

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