Kip Fulbeck Interview

Frank Agostinelli, asiansofmixedrace.com

March 1, 2008

If you have had the pleasure of meeting Kip Fulbeck, you’ll agree when I say he is one the nicest and most genuine people you will ever meet. Besides being arguably the most recognizable face in the Hapa community, he is an award-winning artist, slam poet and filmmaker. And if the world of swimming had a fantasy league, I’d trade up to draft him!

AMR.com: It’s been two years since the release of Part Asian, 100% Hapa. How important was it for you to put this book out?

KF: Hard to believe it’s been that long, as it’s still finding its way around to new people. I would say it’s probably the most important artwork I’ve made. Mostly because of the widespread impact it’s had on so many people … and ultimately, that’s why we make art.

AMR.com: Any pressure being the face of the Hapa community?

KF: Well, I appreciate the thought, but I don’t think I am. I’m “a” face of the community, but there are so many other artists out there and new ones coming up. Sometime there is an expectation that my work should specifically address Hapa issues …

It’s been that way since I directed “Banana Split” in ’91. Everything I made after that had the implicit question attached to it—is it about being Hapa? The funny thing is, everything I make is about being Hapa … no matter what the initial subject is; just as it’s also about being male, being American, being a surfer, etc. You can’t escape who you are.

AMR.com: In your opinion, why has America taken so long to recognize who we are (as well as Mixed Race people) and the fact we are just like everybody else?

KF: Mainstream America hasn’t recognized it yet. We’re just operating in a more educated, progressive social network so it seems that way. Anyone who comes to your site, for instance, is already light years ahead of the typical American who has never considered race/ethnicity past the cursory. Look at Obama still being referred to as a Black candidate, Tiger Woods as a Black golfer, etc.

AMR.com: What would you like to see happen within the Hapa community now and in the future?

KF: What will naturally happen … that is more and more creative, younger voices willing to challenge established norms and mores (including my own) … who can talk about race/ethnicity and identity on their own terms and not have to get didactic and territorial, who are well-rounded and have lives outside this discussion.

Sometimes people get too involved in things, especially online, and need to chill out.

AMR.com: Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for the younger generation?

KF: Don’t get penned into any community that tries to tell you what you can, can’t or should do. One of the pitfalls of the web is it has allowed passive aggressivity to flourish … meaning a lot of people with stuff to work out get very brave behind a keyboard.

As you get out there, a good rule of thumb is don’t google yourself or read discussions about you. Works like a charm.

AMR.com: You have a new book set for release, Permanence: Tattoo Portraits by Kip Fulbeck. What’s the story behind this book and how much did you enjoy doing this book?

KF: Loved doing it. Learned so much from doing 100% Hapa that this was much, much easier to organize and shoot. When you think about it, both books are really about the same thing—identity.

Hapa uses race as a foil to discuss it and Permanence uses tattoos, but essentially they’re both about how we define our individuality. One book goes inside-out, the other outside-in.

AMR.com: Is there anyone in particular you wished you could of photographed for Permanence?

KF: Hmmmmm… Mike Tyson. I just think he’s such a freak. It’d be like meeting Michael Jackson or Anna Nicole Smith when she was alive. Could they really be that weird? Also Kobe Bryant.

Trouble is, their handlers are so on top of their every move you probably couldn’t get a real statement from them. Whereas the celebrities I have in Permanence really give some meaningful information. I remember after I shot Chuck Liddell … he wrote his statement and then said “I never told anyone that before.”

AMR.com: Which was more fun putting together? 100% Hapa or Permanence?

KF: In terms of my impact on the world, 100% Hapa was more of a mission piece, and this made it more difficult and pressured.

It’s funny … when I was making it all these people started giving me their opinions on what I should do or shouldn’t do, as if they had some ownership or right to the artwork.

I also got a lot of “You know, I thought of this idea myself a long time ago” type of comments, which I found hilarious. Some people’s sense of entitlement is jaw dropping.

Permanence was also easier to shoot because I was completely free as a photographer to visually capture the subjects, instead of being restrained by the identical framing I used in Hapa. It was really nice breaking all the traditional rules of composition. I’m really happy with how Permanence came out … it’s a beautiful book.

AMR.com: Any chance of Permanence going the same route as The Hapa Project via traveling exhibition?

KF: The prints will open at Ghettogloss Gallery in Silverlake on March 20th … from there I’m not sure. There’s some interest from other galleries in L.A. and San Francisco, and I’ll be doing a talk at the Baltimore Museum of Art on the book as well.

AMR.com: You were recently on the cover of Hyphen Magazine looking buff as a Hapa centaur! How much fun was the photo shoot?

KF: Yeah, that was pretty funny. My friend Claire wrote me about it and asked if I wanted to do it. I love Hyphen and I think their covers are great.

I also like how they’re so tongue in cheek and people don’t always get it … I remember someone complaining about their Asian import girl cover as if it was real! Stef (art director) and Seng (photographer) were really fun to work with.  My dad took one look at the cover and said, “They got the halves switched.”

AMR.com: Do you have any projects in the works?

KF: I’ve got a couple book projects in my head, but I’m performing so much it’s difficult to get time. Once Permanence launches things should calm down a bit (hopefully) and I’ll knock a couple ideas out. Keep your eyes open.

AMR.com: The United States swim team needs you for 08! Which way do you go? 50meter freestyle or 50 meter butterfly?

KF: Good question! The best thing about masters swimming is the older I get, the higher my national ranking goes. I love the 50 fly, but to paraphrase my favorite swimmer, Natalie Coughlin (also Hapa btw), sprint freestyle is where the action is!