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This talk is organized by St Andrews Centre for Contemporary Art and the School of Art History.

Fiona Tan: Inhabiting the World as a ‘Professional Foreigner’

Date: 10 March 2022 (Thursday)
Time: 12:00-1:30am
Venue: Online

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This talk discusses a set of lens-based installation works by Indonesian-born Australian-raised Dutch artist Fiona Tan, which not only foster generative dialogues with the artist’s experiences of transnational migration and cross-cultural engagement, but also probe into the unprecedentedly movable and uprooting status of human life in a globalising world.

Tan considers herself a ‘professional foreigner’ devoid of an unambiguous origin, which enables her to investigate multiple places and cultures via situated observations and actual experiences unburdened by prior knowledge of local norms and conventions. With her works, Tan brings to the fore a way of perceiving and apprehending people’s identities and histories built not upon preconceived sociocultural and geopolitical narratives, but rather on embodied encounters and identifications with their quotidian activities ‘at home’.

The talk examines in what ways Tan’s works implicate viewers in dynamic and affective material environments of migratory inhabitation that requires continuous reworking and reconfiguration of the relations between private and public, self and other, past and present, and local and foreign, as well as virtual and real; how Tan’s artistic practice of ‘homemaking’ articulates an ethical position of being a professional foreigner permanently ‘in exile’, disrupting any consistent and coherent conception of provenance in terms of when and where people or things originally come from; and in what ways Tan, in her works, renders identity and home relational and transformative, constituted and reconstituted through relations of power and mutuality, providing a distinctive insight into the complex entanglement of personal memories, social histories and cultural belonging.


Dr. Vivian Sheng is Assistant Professor of the Department of Art History at The University of Hong Kong. She is a feminist art historian working on contemporary transnational art and visual culture. Her research investigates the intricate interrelation between women, domesticity and artistic practice in association with growing international travel and cross-cultural exchange, which significantly challenge any stable and absolute conception of home and place. Her current book project, Art, Women and Fantasies of ‘Homemaking’: Affective Domesticity, Embodied Habitation and Transcultural (Dis)identification, examines the practices of six women artists—Yin Xiuzhen, Fiona Tan, Mona Hatoum, Shen Yuan, Nikki S. Lee and On-Megumi Akiyoshi—from vastly different geopolitical backgrounds and working conditions, exploring the role of art in mediating issues of gender, place, identity and belonging. This research responds to the urgent need to reconsider women’s contributions to the constitution and representation of sociocultural and geopolitical realities within the international art world beyond Euro-American centres. It introduces new content and theoretical paradigms to the ongoing construction of a feminist history of art, challenging normative discourses of social advancement, global capitalism and international migration, which often push women aside.

Image Credit: Fiona Tan, Vox Populi, London, 2012. The Photographers Gallery, London

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