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Remodeling “Minority”: Asians and Asian-Americans in Burlesque

Western perceptions of Asians have long been shaped by stereotypes that persist to this day. Asians are portrayed in the Western imagination as passive and exotic, a powerfully seductive blend for a Western masculinity constructed around action and control.

Detail of peacock costume worn by Lana Wong, c. 1955Asian and Asian-American burlesque performers since the mid-20th century have subverted Western expectations, drawing American and European audiences in by playing up these sterotypical Asian qualities (for instance, with ads offering “forbidden pleasures” from “beautiful dolls”) only to challenge their audiences by presenting a sensuality and eroticism onstage that is anything but demure and passive. Asian and Asian-American burlesque presents women (and increasingly men) who refuse to be contained by the limitations of Western imaginations, creating exciting, challenging art that both draws on Asian culture, music, and imagery, and turns it on its head.

Featuring pieces worn by classic-era performers Coby Yee, Lana Wong, Tura Satana, and more, as well as contemporary performers such as Miss Exotic World 2019 Frankie Fictitious, Miss Exotic World 2014 Midnite Martini, and internationally renowned performer-activist Sukki Singapora, Remodeling “Minority: Asians and Asian-Americans in Burlesque examines how performers have exploited and resisted the impulse to see Asian performers as “exotic” and “Other” and how Asian and Asian-American performers continue to push the art forward to this day.

On display in our special exhibition space June 1 - Dec 31, 2022. No extra charge.

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