Doubles, Triples and Halves – Kip Fulbeck’s Hapa Project

Ayelet Zohar, Trans Asia Photography Review (link)

October, 2011

Kip Fulbeck’s Hapa Project was recently exhibited at the Race: Are We So Different? exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, Aug. 2011

The expanded context of the display considered the history and context of race issues in the USA, and the main objective of the exhibition was to destabilize and criticize notions of race – exposing powerful historical, financial, economical and political interests underlying racial discourses rather than any biological or bodily inherited “truth”, in the same manner that ideas of gender and sexuality had been heavily criticized and objected to in the past decades

However, the inclusion of Fulbeck’s Hapa Project in the context of this issue of the TAP Review also throws an interesting light on the concept of Asia in general, beyond the immediate context of race in the USA. Fulbeck’s project extends to pose an inquiry into broad issues of personal identity, cultural significance and geographical definitions

When viewing Fulbeck’s Hapa Project, one is immediately confronted with a series of questions: Who is Asian? Who is Pacific Islander and how is this related to Asia?  What is Asia? Is it a geographical term? Maybe a historical set of links between certain groups of people spread out over the largest continent on Earth? Or possibly, Asia is a cultural sphere of ideas, along with their practice and representation? Or perhaps being Asian is a question of racial identity, after all?

Fulbeck’s Hapa Project serves as a successful critique of racial stereotypes through the display of individual portraits. His subjects effectively offer their singular appearance and unique characteristics, defying the notion of average or typical signifiers of Asian facial features. The appeal of this project lies mainly in its subversive attitude, and a refusal, on the part of participants and artist alike, to be confined by conventional geographic, racial or ethnic definitions

The presence of the group displayed here, and beyond, (Fulbeck’s project consists of 1200 portraits so far) challenges the scientific desire to classify, to put order and clear demarcations on human identity

Fulbeck cleverly creates a definite level of chaos through brief texts presented in the hand-writing (and doodling) of the varying participants. These citations resist any scientific or orderly manners of description, letting the personal, the singular, the un-chainable leak in to create their own moments of boundless, un-bordered existence. The personal texts accompanying the photographs cannot be summed up in charts, percentages, titles or boxes

Each person in Fulbeck’s collection defines Asia and the Pacific Islands, being (partly) Asian or Pacific Islander or sharing Asian attributes in a different manner, creating  a plethora of definitions, and a chaotic experience that successfully undermines preconceptions of the singularity of Asia that the viewer/ reader may have had

Once this group of portraits faces you, the reader, you are certainly invited to reconsider any preconceived ideas and notions about Asia, identity, race, or other defining elements used in contemporary societies. The Hapa Project suggests an uncanny, haunting moment, when the viewer faces the portrait on display but hesitates as to how to identify or describe the person viewed

In this sense, Fulbeck’s work adds a dimension to the rest of the projects presented in this issue, The Hapa Projectsuggests a reading that does not take for granted the place, context and meaning of Asia. It undermines, on the one hand, but opens and expands, on the other, the definitions of Asia, or Asian people.