- Cultural Studies
Committee members: Nitasha Tamar Sharma, Yu-Fang Cho
Unsettled Visions: Contemporary Asian American Arts and the Social Imaginary, by Margo Machida
Missing: Youth, Citizenship, and Empire after 9/11, by Sunaina Maira
Margo Machida's Unsettled Visions: Contemporary Asian American Arts and the Social Imaginary spans a wide range of works by artists of diverse ethnic, immigrant, and artistic backgrounds, demonstrating the ways in which their art responds to and provides critical feedback on the myriad dynamic social forces that meet under the auspices of the sign Asian America. When reading it, one gets the sense that this is the culmination of a life's work, an experienced scholar who is reflecting not only on what she has learned as an academic but also on the ways in which her experiences as a curator and an activist have allowed meaning to accrue onto a wide range of objects. Scholarship, curatorial work, and activism all elegantly complement each other in Machida's readings of these objects that make them come to life, vital and pertinent to the world around us. In the process, Unsettled Visions provides a rich translation of complex ideas into understandable prose. As such, it speaks to the whole field of Asian American studies, bringing life to its subject matter in a way that is accessible to scholars working in multiple [End Page 435] disciplines as well as to nonacademics invested in art and activism. Its accessible prose also makes it eminently teachable.
The selection committee was especially impressed by the ways in which this book looks at art, an area that we believed has not received the attention it has deserved within the field. Machida uncovers the complexities and significance of this understudied area in Asian American studies, weaving in and out of major critical debates and framing discussion of the art itself into useful thematic categories. As a result, she highlights a new landscape for the field to explore: contemporary Asian American artists and their transnational contexts. At the same time, the book pulls off the impressive feat of making itself object-oriented while not objectifying what it studies. That is, this book is about the art, providing rich descriptions of significant pieces and placing them within their historical context. In doing so, it relates this art to the specifics of individual artists' overall artistic directions and the ways in which these artists themselves are part of the larger milieus in response to which Asian American studies emerged and continues to transform itself. The art itself, however, never feels stranded in museums, as objects devoid of lively concern. They are woven into a complex network of meaning and meaning-making, with Machida playing an active role in tracing out these networks and massaging them to become more relevant than they are ordinarily perceived. For those already well versed in this subject matter, it remains a vital contribution to ongoing discussions. For all those interested, and possibly even a little intimidated, by contemporary Asian American art, it provides an excellent starting place. And for those who do not yet realize that they are interested in this subject, it awaits to reward those willing to stretch themselves in a novel direction. For these reasons, the committee unanimously thought that there is something enduring, indeed overdue, about this book. In awarding it the AAAS cultural studies prize, we give expression to our belief that it will be consulted for a long time to come.
Sunaina Maira's Missing: Youth, Citizenship, and Empire after 9/11 is an important book that speaks about a critical and urgent subject matter: the ways in which the war on terror has, and continues to have, a severe impact on the lives of South Asian American Muslim youths. It focuses on a small group of such youths living in Massachusetts, and as it progresses it tells a rich story of the many encounters Maira had with them. At times, her descriptions of these encounters can be touchingly personal, as when she finds these youths engaged in a playful snowball fight on a college campus near their high school. It is a delightful...