Published: Feb. 18, 2021

Thursday, February 11 at 12pm MST

This paper examines recent work by contemporary Indonesian artists in order to think through the visual politics by which “Chineseness” has become both hypervisible and invisible in different ways and at different moments in Indonesian history. My aim is to trace a historically shifting “distribution of the visible” integral to the social process of racializing the ethnic Chinese minority in Indonesia, and to ask how these interlocking forms of seeing and unseeing “Chineseness” both enable and occlude violence. At the same time that they offer critical insights into histories of racialized violence, the artists whose work I examine also critically and reparatively intervene in the visual figuration of the Chinese in Indonesia, seeking to open up new ways of seeing.

Karen Strassler is Professor of Anthropology at CUNY’s Queens College and the Graduate Center. Her research interests include photography, visual and media culture, violence and historical memory. She is the author of Refracted Visions: Popular Photography and National Modernity in Java (Duke UP, 2010), a study of the role of everyday photography in the making of Indonesian national identity. Her recent book, Demanding Images: Democracy, Mediation, and the Image-Event in Indonesia (Duke UP, 2020), explores the political work of images in post-authoritarian Indonesia. A recent article, “Zones of Refuge” (2018), examines the work of artist FX Harsono in confronting occluded histories of violence against Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority. The latter is part of a new research project that investigates images and the politics of visibility in relation to Chinese Indonesians.