Latest Publications

Malaysia Design Archive: A Digital Undercommons
July, 2021

In 2019, Fiona Lee embarked on a project with Malaysia Design Archive (MDA) to explore how its archival practices and engagement with the arts and activ- ist communities presented opportunities for theorizing the notion of archives anew. Emerging out of this ongoing collaboration, this essay considers the significance of digital information communication technologies in shaping MDA’s mission, history, and growth.

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Invisible Threads
June, 2021

Essay on artworks by Sharon Chin for the Protest and Recuperation exhibition at the Wallach Art Gallery,
Lenfest Center for the Arts, Columbia University.

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Neutralizing English: Han Suyin and the language politics of Third World literature

The writings of Han Suyin during her sojourn in British Malaya from the 1950s to 1960s are a rich archive for understanding how the Cold War’s impact on postcolonial nation-building contributed to the remaking of English as a supposedly neutral language. Han styled herself as a spokesperson for China to the English-speaking world during the early decades of communist rule. Her writings arguably helped to fashion English as a transparent medium for representing Asia, a conception of language that informs global literary publishing today. Yet her work, which was influenced by her participation in the Afro-Asian Writers Conferences organized in the wake of the 1955 Bandung Conference, as well as her experience of living in Malaya during the colonial counter-insurgency against communists, also offers insights on how English’s neutrality ought to be understood in relation to forestalled Third World movements and racialized antagonisms in postcolonial nations.

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The Subject and the Partner in Malaysia: A Discussion with Fiona Le‪e‬

Dr Thushara Dibley speaks with Dr Fiona Lee about a unique research project she’s been managing on cultural archives in Malaysia, where her research partner is also the subject of her research.


Rites of Change: Artistic Responses to Recent Street Protests in Kuala Lumpur

Artists and writers were among the key participants in the wave of mass political demonstrations that took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 2007 onwards. This essay explores the distinct ways in which three prominent figures— the writer, A. Samad Said; the artist, Sharon Chin; and the graphic designer, Fahmi Reza—engaged with street protests. Analysing the various aesthetic forms they produced in response to these events, I consider how their works and participation have enabled political protests to take on new meanings in a variety of public spheres including the arena of education; the local and global contemporary arts scenes; urban spaces; and social media sites, and what insights they reveal about the historical conditions underlying the ongoing cultural, political change.

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Han Chinese racism and Malaysian contexts: cosmopolitan racial formations in Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists

This essay explores what it means to theorize Han racism in Malaysian contexts, where ethnic Chinese constitute a minority. Given the history of Malay political dominance and recent intensification of Malay-Muslim ethno-nationalism as part of a backlash against the historic change of government in 2018, theorizing Han racism might seem like a move to downplay these factors and minimize the various forms of racialized violence directed at Chinese identified bodies. To the contrary, I show that doing so involves tracking the transnational process of racial production, which requires understanding how racist and capitalist modes of hierarchy operate in tandem, and how racial discourses are used by the state to manage domestic political exigencies and global economic forces to facilitate ongoing capitalist accumulation. I then turn to consider the arena of world Anglophone literature, which has emerged as a transnational site for narrating Chinese Malaysian experiences, by considering an exemplary text, a 2012 novel by Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists. In examining the material and ideological conditions of the global literary marketplace in shaping the novel, I consider how the cosmopolitan nature of global Anglophone literary production can obscure the racial underpinnings of its cultural productions as in the case of Tan’s novel.

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“Epistemological Checkpoint: The Novelization of the Malayan Emergency in Han Suyin’s …And the Rain My Drink.Postcolonial Text 9.1 (2014). 1–14. [pdf]

“Spectral History: Unsettling Nation Time in The Last Communist.” Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies 39.1 (March 2013). 77–95. [pdf]

Book Reviews

“Review: Cindy Hing-Yuk Wong, Film Festivals: Culture, People, and Power on the Global Screen.” Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media 3 (2012): n. pag. [link].

“Review: Homay King, Lost in Translation: Orientalism, Cinema, and the Enigmatic Signifier.” Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 14.2 (2012): 319–321. [pdf]

“National Ghosts and Global Literature.” Reviews in Cultural Theory 1.2 (2010): n. pag. [link]


“Reading the Transnational in the Local. Or, How the Local Travels: The Case of Survival Guide Untuk Kampung Radioaktif.” In Media Res: A Media Commons Project. January 25, 2012.

The Frontline of Privatizing Public Higher Education.Possible Futures: A Project of the Social Science Research Council. November 28, 2011.