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Mare Liberum

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Performing the Free Sea in Karen O’s Native Korean Rock

image of Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas

Bringing a performance studies perspective to bear on the emergent area of oceanic studies, this essay theorizes the oceanic imaginary and its particular resonance for Asian American performance. It offers a study of the mare liberum, or free sea: an insovereign zone that belongs to no one because it is common to all. Organized around a reading of musician Karen O’s performances, the essay identifies the emancipatory kernel at the heart of her performance practice. Reading the oceanic aesthetic within Karen O’s performance practice and situating this within of a brief intellectual history of the free sea—and the work of early modern Dutch jurist Hugo Grotious, in particular—the author suggests that Karen O’s playful performance atop a figurative ocean stages the speculative emancipation of the body from the limits of racial and national subjection.

Affiliations: 1: Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA,


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