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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Rules of Art and Cultural Citizenship: On Multicultural Aesthetics

Yiyan Wang.

This paper explores the interplay of migrant identity politics in contemporary multicultural Australia and the rules of art in practice as outlined by Pierre Bourdieu (Bourdieu 1995; 1984). My intention is to investigate the degrees of artistic success of migrant artists and to analyse their possibilities of cultural citizenship in Australia society. My investigation centres around the notion of ‘multicultural aesthetics’ – a term that I have coined in order to capture the intersection between the ‘tyranny of taste’ and the production and reception of the artwork by Chinese-Australian artists in association with the mainstream artistic criteria. I hope to move beyond a simplistic criticism of the government’s multicultural policy or the lack of it, and to expand the horizons of diaspora studies further than ‘culture and inequality’, minority rights or community identities.
Through case studies of a number of Chinese artists who migrated to Australia in the late 1980s or the early 1990s, I argue that on the one hand, Australia has provided opportunities for its citizens from very diverse cultural backgrounds to succeed in creative arts and become recognized as cultural citizens of Australia; on the other hand, migrant creative work is highly subjective to the rules of the ‘field’, or the producer of the value of the work of art (Bourdieu 1995: 229), who is other than the migrant artists themselves. In other words, it is one thing to have a ‘multicultural’ society in which many diaspora communities live and thrive but it is quite another for a society’s high culture to absorb cultural values and aesthetics from other traditions. The latter, although it happens all the time, takes much longer to evolve. In this interactive process, the migrant artists, as the case of these Chinese-Australian artists, can at times be agents in initiating changes in the arts establishment.


Yiyan Wang  (Australia)
School of European, Asian, Middle Eastern Languages and Studies
the University of Sydney

Dr Yiyan Wang teaches modern Chinese literature and film studies at the University of Sydney.

  • diaspora studies
  • aesthetics
  • visual art
Person as Subject
  • Pierre Bourdieu Chinese-Australian artists

(30min Paper Presentation, English)