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CGED Research Seminar Series

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



Dr. Vivian K. Sheng, Assistant Professor, Department of Art History, HKU


Dr. Grace En-yi Ting

Assistant Professor, School of Humanities (Gender Studies), HKU


Dr. Alvin K. Wong

Assistant Professor, School of Humanities (Comparative Literature), HKU

Time: 4:00 - 5:30pm HK Time

Venue: Room 4.36, 4/F, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, The University of Hong Kong

Registration required:


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’. This paper 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, 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.

Speaker Biography:

Vivian K. Sheng is an art historian working on contemporary transnational art and an assistant professor in contemporary art at the Department of Art History, The University of Hong Kong (HKU). Before joining HKU, she taught modern and contemporary art history and theory at the University of Manchester, UK. Her research investigates the intricate interrelations between women, domesticity and artistic practice in association with increasing transnational travel and cross-cultural exchange, which challenge any stable and absolute conception of identity, home and belonging. Relevant questions and concerns are explored in her current book—Women, Arts and Fantasies of ‘Homemaking’: Affective Domesticity, Embodied Inhabitation and Transnational (Dis)identification. Her writings have appeared in Third Text, Sculptural Journal, Yishu and INDEX JOURNAL.

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