Wattis Institute releases "Why are they so afraid of the lotus?"

Why are they so afraid of the lotus?—the second title in the Wattis Institute’s annual book series, A Series of Open Questions—is informed and inspired by the work of Trinh T. Minh-ha.


The front cover of Why are they so afraid of the lotus?, featuring The End of You by artist Divya Mehra.

San Francisco, CA­—Wednesday, May 19, 2021—The CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts announces Why are they so afraid of the lotus?—the second volume in its annual book series, A Series of Open Questions. Informed and inspired by the work of filmmaker, writer, theorist, and composer Trinh T. Minh-ha, the book is co-published with Sternberg Press and distributed by the MIT Press, and will be released on June 10. It is available for pre-order now at wattis.org.

On June 10, at 5 pm PT, curator and artist Astria Suparak joins the Wattis Institute for Asian Futures, Without Asians, a virtual talk and launch event celebrating the release of Why are they so afraid of the lotus? Suparak discusses the implications of not only borrowing heavily from Asian culture, but decontextualizing and misrepresenting it, while Asian contributors are simultaneously excluded. Her lecture is interspersed with visual examples from popular American science fiction movies and TV shows, from the 1970s through today.

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Why are they so afraid of the lotus? uses Trinh’s work as a point of departure to explore questions related to cultural hybridization and fluidity of identity, digital and migratory aesthetics, memory and landscape, decentered realities, feminist approaches to storytelling, meditations on death and myth, post-coloniality and decolonization, and women's work as related to cultural politics.

The contributions to Why are they so afraid of the lotus? embody Trinh's own weariness around categorization and investigate the ways production can come from and be based in positions of unknowing. The book includes a broad array of contributions, including never-before-published Paragraphs from writer and poet Renee Gladman; Chronology, featuring photography by the late artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha; new digital artwork by artist Ranu Mukherjee; new writings from CCA faculty and reading group members Shylah Pacheco Hamilton, tamara suarez porras, Astria Suparak, and Kathy Zarur; and a cover designed by artist Divya Mehra.

Edited by Wattis Deputy Director and Head of Publications Jeanne Gerrity and Curator Kim Nguyen, Why are they so afraid of the lotus? is a result of a year of learning from the work of Trinh T. Minh-ha in the company of reading group members Abbas Akhavan, Naz Cuguoğlu Cacekli, Jeanne Gerrity, Shylah Pacheco Hamilton, Viêt Lê, Ranu Mukherjee, Kim Nguyen, McIntyre Parker, Dorothy Santos, tamara suarez porras, Astria Suparak, James Voorhies, Christine Wang, and Kathy Zarur; and informed by a series of public events.

More on A Series of Open Questions

Published in partnership with Sternberg Press and distributed by the MIT Press, the Wattis Institute’s annual reader, A Series of Open Questions, provides an edited selection of perspectives, images, and references related to the Wattis’s year-long “On our mind” research seasons. Separate from the Wattis Insitute’s exhibition program, each research season is dedicated to reflecting on a single artist’s work and the questions that emerge from it through small-scale reading groups and a series of public programs that explore a diverse and varied ecosystem of other artists and related ideas.

Each volume of A Series of Open Questions includes newly commissioned writing by members of the research season’s intimate reading group, as well as text and visual contributions by a diverse range of other artists and writers. The title of each reader takes the form of a question and becomes, as new books are published, a gradually evolving series of open questions. The first book in the series—Where are the tiny revolts?, released in 2020—was informed by the work of Bay Area poet and novelist Dodie Bellamy. The third book in the series, inspired by Chilean artist, poet, and activist Cecilia Vicuña, will be released in 2022.

Previous books from the Wattis publication program have included Dodie Bellamy is on our mind (2020, co-published with Semiotext(e)), David Hammons is on our mind (2018), and Andrea Fraser: 2016 in Museums, Money, and Politics (2018, co-published with the MIT Press and Westreich Wagner Publications).

Why are they so afraid of the lotus? (A Series of Open Questions, vol. 2)

CCA Wattis Institute and Sternberg Press, 2021

Paperback, 256 pages

Edited by: Kim Nguyen and Jeanne Gerrity

Contributions by: Divya Mehra, Leslie Marmon Silko, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Julio García Espinosa, Sky Hopinka, Ranu Mukherjee, Tisa Bryant, Katherine McKittrick & Alexander G. Weheliye, Frantz Fanon, Christina Sharpe, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Simone Browne, Astria Suparak, Christine Wang, Camille Rankine, Kathy Zarur, Dionne Brand, Renee Gladman, tamara suarez porras, Wendy Xu, Amy Fung, Shylah Pacheco Hamilton, Steffani Jemison, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, and Angie Morrill, Eve Tuck, and the Super Futures Haunt Qollective.

Design by: Scott Ponik

Price: $15.00

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Portrait of David Owens-Hill.

David Owens-Hill

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