Museum Voices: Representing Race/Presenting Identities


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  • Speaker: Jack Tchen, Co-Founder of the Museum of Chinese in America and Associate Professor at NYU
  • Host Department: race
  • Date: 04/04/2013
  • Time: 7:30PM - 9:00PM

  • Location: East Conference Room, Rackham

  • Description:

    This program is the final lecture in the Museum Studies Program Series:  Museum Voices: Representing Race/Presenting Identities.

    The old exhibitionary big box with grand entryways holding sacred objects and treasures still premised on a top down hierarchy of “deciders,” has run its course.  They are energy sucking monsters limping along the landscape trying desperately to find young people and new migrants with money.  Booming parts of the world rush to build new monstrosities mistakenly believing it will buy them distinction, cultural capital, and authority.  It’s an exhausted part of the highbrow cultural complex forever striving to emulate European aristocratic culture.  Yet expectations today stay fixated on that old big box.

    By doing so, we’re missing the emergence of what will become the new American museum, a decolonized augmented chronotopic experience of folded time/spaces — a way to resituate and revivify place in the retelling of our collective futures.  This presentation will sketch out the contours of how diverse emergent practices are actually the formation of the new American museological practice — immanent, dynamic, and yet to take formal shape.
    John Kuo Wei Tchen is an historian, teacher, and curator.  He works on understanding the multiple presents, pasts, futures of New York City, decolonizing national identity formations, promoting trans-local cross-cultural communications, and opening up pedagogical approaches.  He also works on critiquing and helping our cultural organizations and institutions become more representative and inclusive, democratizing archival and historic documentation/preservation practice and conceptualization, and collaborating with communities to fight the systemic absenting of their stories and to build alternatives.  He has spoken and consulted internationally.  Professor Tchen is the founding director of the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute at New  York University.  He co-founded the Museum of Chinese in America in 1979-80 where he continues to serve as senior historian.  In 1991, he was awarded the Charles S. Frankel Prize from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  He is author of the award-winning books New York before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776-1882 and Genthe's Photographs of San Francisco's Old Chinatown, 1895-1905.  He was a principal investigator of "Asian Americas and Pacific Islanders Facts, Not Fiction:  Setting the Record Straight" with the College Board (2008).  Most recently, he co-curated MOCA's core exhibition, "With a single step: stories in the making of America" in a new space designed by Maya Lin.  He is now working on three projects.  The first is a critical archival study of images, excerpts and essays on the history and contemporary impact of "Yellow Peril" paranoia and xenophobia (Verso, 2013).  He is the senior historian for the upcoming New York Historical Society of 2014 traveling exhibit on the impact of Chinese Exclusion Laws (1882-1968) on America, grappling with the paradox of a nation innocent of its own past.  And, his next book is about how Americans have systemically 'othered' China and Asia, called The Chinese Question: An American Mystery Never Resolved.

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