We are pleased to announce the launching of
Presented by the Center for the Study of Asia
Beginning with the earliest international exhibition at London’s “Crystal Palace” in 1851, “world’s fairs” became a prominent stage for the presentation of peoples and cultures of Asia to a world audience. With its rich, vibrant and diverse histories and cultures, Asia as represented at these universal expositions provided many fairgoers with their first encounter with Asia and helped shape their understanding of the world. Taking place during a time of widespread colonialism, the notion of the world presented at these fairs had many complex layers of meaning. In many cases, indigenous arts and crafts were selected and showcased by their colonial administrators. Yet, many Asian countries chose to actively confront the asymmetry of power in their relationship to the West by presenting in these exhibitions their own image of their country and culture. These expositions served as a grand stage that displayed a complex history of conflicts, contradictions, and engagement of Asia with the world.
This online exhibition focuses on the presence in these early international fairs of Asian cultures and the stimulus they gave to transcultural interactions in areas as diverse as performing arts, architecture, painting, sculpture, print, and even food. Without seeking to minimize the unequal political and economic backdrop of the various early world fairs, our focus on cultural themes in this exhibition will demonstrate the power of culture to engage with and, at least in certain aspects, overcome power asymmetry. It also creates a platform for an open discussion of the contributions Asian cultures have made on the world stage through these fairs and the enormous impact they had on millions of fairgoers for whom the “world” as a concept became real for the first time. The dynamics of cultural interaction reveal, often in surprising ways, a blending and sharing of cultural features that have enriched all sides.
The project is organized by themes, each of which is illustrated by a growing number of different exhibitions. At present, the website opens with two main themes, Asian Architecture (illustrated here by the exhibitionTracing the Japanese Pavilion at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago), and Asian Dance (which explores inThe Moving Image of Asia the interplay of Asian and modern Western dance at the 1900 Paris world’s fair). In the coming months, additional themes and exhibitions will come online.