by Gayatri Gopinath. Duke University Press, November 2018. 236 p. ill. ISBN 9781478000358 (pbk), $25.95.
Reviewed March 2019
In Unruly Visions, Gayatri Gopinath (Associate Professor and Director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, New York University) brings together the work of contemporary queer artists worldwide, such as Australian artist Tracey Moffatt and Kenya-born Indian photographer Allan deSouza, to propose a revised understanding of queer diaspora through critical analyses of their aesthetic practices. Gopinath compares works in a wide range of artistic forms, including film, photography, poetry, and painting. The book pieces together seemingly disparate parts to unveil a larger global theme within visual culture that overcomes national boundaries and colonial narratives.
The works discussed by Gopinath reinscribe spaces and bodies with intimate experiences related to queerness (in terms of sexuality and nonheteronormative aspirations) and displacement. The result is a valorization of alternative and imagined histories “that refuse and refute the lures of recognition, inclusion, and legitimacy that frame conventional articulations of success and ‘making it.’” In the first chapter, “Queer Regions: Imagining Kerala from the Diaspora,” Gopinath explores the imposition of heteronormativity through history’s centering of dominant nationalist categorizations of space. Gopinath continues by examining the ways in which artists hone in on regional constructions of space that recognize transnational subjectivities. Subsequent chapters follow suit, focusing on immigrant narratives, linkages between migrants and indigenous populations, and affective archives. Of particular note is chapter three, “Diaspora, Indigeneity, Queer Critique,” which points out the tendency within diaspora studies to undermine indigenous constructions of sovereignty. Rather than reinforce the points of departure between indigenous and other global diasporic communities, Gopinath highlights the shared experiences of racialization and forced mobilization by colonial hegemonic powers as articulated in the work of Moffatt and Seher Shah. Gopinath concludes by discussing a “queer optic,” which fundamentally deconstructs and disorients history while looking forward to “potential futures.”
Unruly Visions is a significant addition to the groundbreaking Perverse Modernities series published by Duke University Press and edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe. Gopinath builds upon the foundational work of queer theorists such as Lauren Berlant and José Esteban Muñoz to intervene and challenge assumptions within area studies. Unruly Visions includes black and white reproductions, twenty-three color plates, a critical bibliography, and an index of key themes, relevant people, and geographic regions. This book is highly recommended for academic libraries, especially those that serve institutions with heavy emphasis on research in visual studies, contemporary art history, postcolonial studies, gender and sexuality studies, and diaspora studies.