Bakirathi Mani is the Penn Presidential Compact Professor of English and core faculty in the Asian American Studies Program. Her areas of interest include Asian American, American, and South Asian Studies; visual cultural studies; museum and curatorial studies; postcolonial theory; transnational feminist and queer of color theory; and interdisciplinary methods of research in comparative race and ethnic studies.
Her book, Unseeing Empire: Photography, Representation, South Asian America (Duke University Press, 2020), earned an Honorable Mention Book Award from the Association of Asian American Studies in 2022. Unseeing Empire considers how empire continues to haunt contemporary photographic representations of South Asians in America, shaping both aesthetic forms of racial self-representation as well as how diasporic viewers claim and identify with these images. Weaving ethnographic work at museums across North America and in South Asia together with her own experience as a curator, Mani examines the limits of visibility and visuality for Asian Americans. She is also the author of Aspiring to Home: South Asians in America (Stanford University Press, 2012). Working across ethnographic, literary, historical and visual archives of South Asian American public culture, Mani's essays have been published in American Quarterly, Social Text, The Journal of Asian American Studies, Diaspora, Positions, and Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures in the Americas, among other journals. More recently, she has written on the circulation of photographs of anti-Asian violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, and photography's relation to imperial and settler-colonial archives in the U.S. and South Asia for Aperture, PIX, Brooklyn Rail, and other public venues. She is on the editorial advisory boards of Verge: Studies in Global Asias and the series Between Asias and Americas. Mani is currently writing on family albums as objects of diaspora and as archives of decay.
Mani earned her Ph.D. in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University, an M.A. in Modern Indian History from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a B.S.F.S. in History and Diplomacy from Georgetown University. Prior to joining Penn in 2023, Mani taught in the Department of English Literature at Swarthmore College for over twenty years, where she was a founding faculty member and inaugural Co-Director for the Tri-College Asian American Studies Program. Mani is a curator of South Asian diasporic visual cultures, and regularly collaborates with with artists and non-profit arts organizations in the U.S. and South Asia.