Photography exhibits at the Asia Society challenge self-perception and upset stereotypes

culturemap houston

December 27, 2012

Tell us about yourself!

That’s the invitation for those who make it into the current exhibition at the Asia Society Texas Center, and hundreds of visitors have taken the offer to heart. You can view their self-impressions along with their photos at the Grand Hall of the Texas Center’s new home in the Museum District. Even more responses can be found on the Center’s website and social media platforms

The actual question is “What Are You?” and, since it’s tied to a photo exhibition by the gifted photographer and filmmaker Kip Fulbeck and built on the concept of the book by the same name, part asian, 100% hapa (HOP-ah, a Hawaiian word meaning of mixed racial heritage with partial roots in Asian or Pacific Islander ancestry), one might think it’s drawing those Americans who are part Asian. But it welcomes and has attracted all “kinds” of Houstonians who might answer the question with “German-English,” “Bankruptcy Attorney” or “Mother,” or something entirely different, sentimental or funny

“It has been a great interactive project and very educational in teaching about diversity,” says Jordan Dupuis, development coordinator at the Center. He took the show for a preview outing in October at an interactive booth at the Texas Contemporary Art Fair — and it was a hit. “People were very engaged by the project. It draws people in and gets them thinking about how they define themselves”

You can’t tell how people will respond based on age or looks, Dupuis says — sometimes you get very thoughtful responses and sometimes more whimsical ones. “Some were very intense and very interesting in their answers; some were comical”

A few of our favorites among the current shots at the Center include the rather proper-looking lady who writes, no surprise: “British.” The happy-looking man who writes: “I am making cancer history!” with a line drawn through “cancer.” The young woman who wrote: “I’m 25% Chinese, 75% Viet. 100% Sunshine!” And the dapper gentleman who wrote: “I am 100% Chinese born living the American dream to the fullest with the most beautiful Mexican American woman by my side”

“The interactive component of the exhibition provides a forum for the exploration of Houston’s cultural landscape, and truly reinforces the diversity and multiculturalism that have made Houston a microcosm of the entire country,” says Patsy Brown, the Center’s communication director. “Perhaps someone’s statement will spark something of commonality elsewhere”

Kip Fulbeck will be at the Center on Jan. 12 at 3 p.m. for an artist talk and to take photographs of Houstonians himself. For a glimpse of what you can expect to experience, you can view him on YouTube delivering a commentary both witty and serious on race and identity

Additional programs complementing the exhibition will also be presented at the Asia Society Texas Center in 2013. To name a few: The screening of experimental shorts from the Dallas Film Festival Experimental on Jan. 25; a Family Day with storytelling and portraiture activities on Feb. 24; and a talk with Yul Kwon, PBS host and winner of Survivor: Cook Islands, on April 4

The Fulbeck portrait exhibition is free, as is visitor participation. Those who wish to see a second exhibition also tied to the concept should see the groundbreaking exhibition Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter, which originated as the first Asian in America exhibition by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. It includes the work of seven artists and an invigorating collection of paintings, drawings, videos and more that give a preview into the not-so-demure direction of modern Asian artists.