At the Guggenheim blog, curator and writer Xiaoyu Weng examines the disturbing spike in anti-Chinese racism in the US since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. As Weng demonstrates, there is an ugly history in the US of Chinese immigrants being scapegoated for outbreaks of disease. She argues that musuems and cultural institutions have a role to pay in combatting this racism, by welcoming “foreign bodies” into their spaces. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
The biological concept of “foreign bodies” has been appropriated by right-wing politicians and conservative media to describe immigrants, portraying them as a disease that could infect the essentialist, monocultural social body defined by populist and nationalist rhetorics. We are in a moment when such mechanisms of hatred and exclusionary politics are gaining more traction. Fear of agents of difference has always found its base in dehumanizing the body of the Other, and the Other is perpetually fabricated.
Museums, curators, and other members of the art world must respond thoughtfully and creatively to help wider communities understand how systemic racism, the construction of racial prejudice, and cultural differences connect to fear, power, and violence. To reappropriate biological metaphors that have been much misused, the museum and the art field should welcome “foreign bodies” and let them actively engage with and change the cultural organism, which is never fixed, and constantly mutating.
Image via the Guggenheim blog.