Commons Conversations

Insurgent Aesthetics: Flight, Freedom, and Fantasy on the Frontiers of US Empire

Commons Conversations
18 Nov, 2019

Insurgent Aesthetics: Flight, Freedom, and Fantasy on the Frontiers of US Empire

with Ronak K. Kapadia
Associate Professor, University of Illinois, Chicago


Co-sponsored by the Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies Program, the Center for Race and Gender, the Center for Middle East Studies, and the Gender and Women's Studies Department

In Insurgent Aesthetics Ronak K. Kapadia theorizes the world-making power of contemporary art responses to US militarism in the Greater Middle East. He traces how new forms of remote killing, torture, confinement, and surveillance have created a distinctive post-9/11 infrastructure of racialized state violence. Linking these new forms of violence to the history of American imperialism and conquest, Kapadia shows how Arab, Muslim, and South Asian diasporic multimedia artists force a reckoning with the US war on terror's violent destruction and its impacts on immigrant and refugee communities.

This paper advances queer, feminist, anti-colonial, and indigenous modes of thinking about the futures of Palestine. Kapadia will argue that a contrapuntal queer feminist analysis of visionary aesthetics in the work of London-based Palestinian visual artist Larissa Sansour provides an alternate perceptual regime through which to understand the “facts-on-the-ground” of contemporary US/Israeli security policing and counterinsurgency warfare. Sansour's work conjures both a sensuous record of the present-day Israeli settler security apparatus, a violent territorial, ethical, and juridical project that is always registered and affectively felt on indigenous Palestinian Arab bodies, landscapes, and ecologies, as well as a necessary queer feminist recalibration of enduring questions about home, land, collectivity, sensation, embodiment, and sovereign futures beyond settler time.

About Ronak Kapadia

Ronak K. Kapadia is Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and affiliated faculty in Art History, Global Asian Studies, and Museum & Exhibition Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Currently, he is a 2019-2020 Visiting Scholar at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University. An interdisciplinary cultural theorist of race, security, sensation, and empire in the late 20th and early 21st century United States, Kapadia is author of Insurgent Aesthetics: Security and the Queer Life of the Forever War (Duke UP 2019). His broader research and teaching fields include critical ethnic studies; race radical and transnational feminisms; queer of color critique; Arab/Muslim/South Asian diasporas; national security and surveillance; critical prison and military studies; visual and performance studies; affect and new materialisms; and US Empire. Kapadia’s writing also appears or is forthcoming in Asian American Literary Review, Journal of Popular Music Studies, Feminist Formations, Verge: Studies in Global Asias, International Journal of Cultural Studies, Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, and edited volumes including Shifting Borders: America and the Middle East/North Africa (AUB Press 2014), Critical Ethnic Studies: A Reader (Duke UP 2016), and With Stones in Our Hands: Writings on Muslims, Racism, and US Empire (U Minnesota Press 2018). With Simone Browne and Katherine McKittrick, Kapadia is co-editor of the 2017 special issue of Surveillance and Society on race, communities, and informers. Kapadia is at work on his second book project, tentatively titled “Breathing in the Brown Queer Commons,” which develops a critical theory of healing justice in the wilds of imperial decline and ecological chaos.

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