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Mark Your Calendars: AAS 2018 Program Highlights

Sculpture by Cambodian artist Svay Sareth; photo courtesy of the artist.

With the deadline for pre-registration for the annual AAS conference coming up on February 26, I would like to use this presidential column to share some information about art exhibits, five special #AsiaNow panels, and the conference as a whole.

Gracing the atrium of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel will be a special sculptural installation by Cambodian artist Svay Sareth, who was the 2016 recipient of the Overall Best Emerging Artist and Best Emerging Sculptor at the prestigious Prudential Eye Awards in Singapore. Illustrating the theme of “When East Meets West,” the artist plans to create a Khmer version of Donald Trump clad in camouflage fabric looking at himself in a bamboo mirror. Sareth will fabricate and sew all the pieces in his workshop in Cambodia and assemble them before our eyes in the atrium.

This artwork ties in with a special #AsiaNow panel, entitled “Asian Arts and Resistance: Defiant Subjects and their Disobedient Objects.” All across Asia artists, writers, musicians, dramatists, and architects have used their expressive capacities to critique the status quo, political regimes, and social establishments. At the same time, states and other powerful patrons regularly use and support expressive forms to celebrate and legitimate their own authority. This panel brings together artists from Hong Kong, Myanmar, Cambodia and India, who—through urban space installations, photographs, sculptures and films—have created unique discursive and imaginative spaces where art collapses into political discourses.

Minzayar Oo, an award-winning journalist, will exhibit a selection of his most captivating pictures. Minzayar is known for highlighting human rights and environmental issues in Myanmar. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Guardian, and National Geographic. Minzayar’s exhibit bridges with a second #AsiaNow panel addressing “The Rohingya Question.” Since August 25, 2017, more than half a million Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape what many international leaders are calling ethnic cleansing or genocide. This panel will bring together a group of experts with backgrounds in the fields of history, anthropology, law, and journalism to critically discuss this humanitarian crisis in Myanmar.

A third #AsiaNow panel, entitled “New Kinds of Censorship Pressures,” responds to an issue that has been of great concern to the AAS membership, namely the recent moves to limit the circulation of scholarly work on the Chinese mainland. China Quarterly was most directly affected, with several other journals—including our own Journal of Asian Studies (JAS)–coming under threat. While we are pleased to report that Cambridge University Press is affirming its commitment to academic freedom, censorship affects publications in other parts of Asia as well. The participants on this panel will include the editors of the JAS and China Quarterly, as well as journalists and scholars who have been on the frontlines of censorship and free speech struggles in places other than the PRC, including Thailand and Cambodia.

Our fourth #AsiaNow panel explores “What the West Needs to Hear from Asia.” In recent decades, increasing numbers of Asian students have been studying their own countries in universities in the West. However, while Western methods and theories continue to dominate scholarly exercise and discourse, there is as yet little evidence that the direction of learning can reverse its way. This roundtable seeks to highlight some of these issues with the participation of people from academia and the think-tank community.

Finally, a fifth roundtable is a continuation of last year’s initiative to explore alternative career paths for Asianists and is entitled “Beyond the Academy: Public Policy Careers for Asianists.” Although Asia continues to attract a large number of students every year, the pursuit of an academic career in the field of Asian studies is becoming more challenging as the demand for teaching jobs far exceeds the number of tenure-track positions available. As a result, an increasing number of students are considering career options outside academia. This roundtable brings together five professionals in the field of public policy in Washington, D.C. to provide students and recent graduates with practical advice, discussing how their academic training prepared them for their career in the U.S. Department of State, think tanks, and non-for-profit sector. Drawing on their personal experience, the panelists will discuss which skills they find are best suited for non-academic jobs, how to best approach a career outside the academy, and how to capitalize on the training, skills, and knowledge gained in the course of post-graduate studies.

The art installation, photo exhibit, and these five special panels are only a small part of what promises to be an embarrassment of riches at this year’s AAS conference. The 2018 conference will feature 443 sessions, a keynote speech and my presidential address, as well as a huge and not-to-be missed book exhibition. My presidential panel will explore the topic “Expanding Language Instruction on Your Campus: New Possibilities through Distance,” about which I write more in my next column.

It is not too late to register. With the pre-registration deadline approaching, students should be aware that student membership only costs $35 per year. In addition to receiving JAS, student members qualify for discounted conference registration fees; student members are also eligible to apply for AAS grants and workshops.

I look forward to seeing everyone in Washington, D.C. at what is shaping up to be another dynamic conference. With over 3,300 participants already registered, it should be easy to run into old friends and meet new colleagues.

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