Globalization and the Question of Local Culture

Melissa Chiu, Museum Director and Curator for Contemporary Asian and Asian-American art at the Asia Society, has had a long involvement with Asian contemporary art and is recognized as a leading authority in the field. Prior to working at the Asia Society, she served as the founding Director of the Asia-Australia Arts Centre in Sydney, a non-profit contemporary art center devoted to promoting dialogue in the Asia-Pacific region among artists, writers, curators and filmmakers.

Additionally, Ms. Chiu has curated over thirty exhibitions with artists from Malaysia, Vietnam, China, Thailand and Japan, among others. She was a founding member of the Asian Contemporary Art Consortium and a driving force behind the establishment of Asian Contemporary Art Week, which will mark its sixth year in New York next Spring.

Melissa Chiu received her B.A. from the University of Western Sydney and her M.A. from the College of Fine Arts, University of South Wales. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Western Sydney and has authored many artist monographs and conference papers and has published widely in journals, magazines and for exhibition catalogues. Ms. Chiu has been a faculty member of the Rhode Island School of Design where she taught Asian contemporary art and design. She has also served on a number of boards and grant panels, including the New York State Council on the Arts, Museums Grant Committee and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. 

  • Transcript


Question: Can local culture be preserved?

Melissa Chiu: One of the interesting things about working with people who are based across the world is the way that you have to modify ideal behavior, or the way that you communicate to suit that local environment. And I think that, especially in Asia where people are often coming from their totally different cultural background with totally different expectations of how you might behave . . . I think that that's both one of the challenges of what . . . what we do, but also one of the wonderful kind of abilities to engage with others. While there might not be one specific instance, I would say that it's more about learning how to kind of . . . how to fit in in a different way.  When globalization first started to be talked about – and of course it originally began as an economic model – I think that so many people felt like local cultures would disappear. Now it’s true to say there is something of a . . . a kind of global economy; that when we go to different cities around the world, we do find McDonald’s and we do find Starbucks. But I think the flip side of that has been that people also have sort of retained local cultures, or to inflect these kind of global organizations in local ways. So the Starbucks that you might go to in Italy will be different from the Starbucks that you go to in China. And so I think that while that might seem kind of a superficial interpretation of the global/local kind of question, I think on the one hand there are those who . . . who are able to be global citizens, if you like. But I think we also have to be . . . we also have to remind ourselves that this is a minority of the kind of world population. And that for so many other people it’s simply a local situation. It’s a local culture. It’s . . . it’s . . . Globalization hasn’t had an impact on everyone. And so I think that we will never see, as far as I can see, the disappearance of a local culture because that is what I think people really want; that the global culture is what I see as an imperative of something that we . . . or kind of a necessity of what we all have to deal with. But local isn’t _______ working on a local level, really ______ disappear.


Recorded on: Jul 11 2007