Haunted Files: The Eugenics Record Office
Curated by Noah Fuller and John Kuo Wei Tchen
Associate Curator: Mark Tseng Putterman
Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU, Gallery
8 Washington Mews
Opening reception: Thursday, October 2, 2014, 7-9pm (RSVP details forthcoming)
On view: Friday, October 3, 2014–Friday, March 13, 2015, Monday-Friday, 11am-5pm*
Enter a 1920s office with oak tables, rows of file drawers, forms, and reports, an Underwood typewriter clacking away… Sift through the files, the desktops and index cards; take in the genteel pastoral surroundings, the sounds of shuffling papers and muffled voices from the next room….
Lurking within every detail of this immersive installation are the faces of American eugenics: the progressive leaders who crafted a vision of mass sterilization, mental institutionalization, and immigration restriction; the young field workers who gathered mountains of data in service of “social progress”; and the targeted persons whose lives would be altered by the eugenic project of “better breeding.”
Drawing from primary source material, Haunted Files: The Eugenics Record Office reimagines the Eugenics Record Office, transporting visitors to the epicenter of American eugenics research and propaganda. Here, eugenicists channeled Progressive Era ideals of rational thought, social progress, statistics, and state management towards the pursuit of “race betterment” and the defense of Anglo-American racial purity.
Haunted Files explores how anti-Asian policies and legislation set the groundwork for the “scientific racism” of modern American politics. This exhibition brings the “relics” of eugenics out of the buried archives, confronting us with the legacy that continues to trouble today’s national conversations about race, immigration, intelligence, norms, and belonging.
*The gallery will not be open on the following dates: Thursday, November 27; Friday, November 28; Monday, December 22-Monday, January 5; Monday, January 19; and Monday, February 16.
“The Normal”: Images from the Haunted Files of Eugenics, a complementary installation, is on view in NYU’s Kimmel Windows Gallery (LaGuardia Place and West 3rd Street, viewable from the street 24/7) from Friday, October 31, 2014-Sunday, January 4, 2015. More details forthcoming.
Image: Courtesy of the American Philosophical Society.