Artist Kip Fulbeck Speaks at ASM

Kip Fulbeck, an artist, slam poet, filmmaker, teacher and self-proclaimed “good writer,” has a hard time categorizing exactly what it is he does. That’s appropriate, considering he has an aversion to categorizing people and things. At All-School Meeting on Wednesday, Fulbeck spoke about multiracial identity, politics and pop culture. Also on Wednesday, Fulbeck met with students in CAMD and presented some of his artwork in Kemper auditorium. He visited several art classes, and his exhibit, “What Are You” will be on display in Gelb Gallery for two months. Fulbeck began his All School Meeting presentation in a certainly unconventional manner. Without an introduction, he began listing common questions found on general applications and testing forms, then proceeded to answer them himself. Name, age, birthday and hometown passed relatively quickly with little confusion. Next came preferential questions: favorite color, Celine Dion or Mariah Carey, etc. And finally, Fulbeck was faced with a dilemma—which box to check in the ethnicity category: Caucasian or Asian. Thus was the theme of Fulbeck’s most famous work, “Part Asian, 100% Hapa” introduced. The book concerns identity and illustrates what it means for different individuals by using race as a construct. “Race doesn’t exist,” he said. “Everyday we’re judging people and basing our [preconceptions] on phenotype, but race is just a made-up biological [divide].” Fulbeck revealed later during his presentation in Kemper that the basis for his work now was the difficulties he experienced growing up as a child of mixed heritage. He said, “[My inspiration for the Hapa project was] growing up and not being able to answer the one-box question…In my hapa world, no one played like me, thought like me, looked like me…until Disney came to the rescue.” Aya Murata, the advisor to Asian students, said, “I was at the People of Color Conference in Boston, December 2007. Kip was a keynote speaker there and was incredibly dynamic, incredibly interesting. Luckily he presented to both faculty and the student leadership group so after his speech, I asked the students representing PA what they thought and they said he was awesome. I knew we had to have him come.” Fulbeck is truly a master of different media—his Kemper presentation featured two short movies called “Lilo & Me” and Sex, Love, & Kung Fu.” His upcoming book is similar to “Part Asian, 100% Hapa,” but it features children ages twelve and under. In addition to sharing pictures and videos from the Hapa Project with PA, Fulbeck also showed many images and stories behind another of his books, “Permanence,” which explores identity through tattoos. Celebrities to Hells Angels, cancer patients to 9/11 fire-fighters and even Auschwitz survivors are included among photos of everyday people with ink. Because of this particular project, Fulbeck said he was able to access certain social groups he otherwise wouldn’t have access to. The focal point of Fulbeck’s work is the race issues Asian Americans deal with. He said that the majority of his problems concerning race have stemmed from his colored side, rather than his “mainstream” side. One example is illustrated through the story of his swimming career. Fulbeck was going to swim representing Taiwan in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. However, he would not be accepted on the team as “Kip Fulbeck.” The Taiwanese coaches required him to change his name and ethnicize it to make it more palatable for an Asian team—Fulbeck refused. Fulbeck’s Hapa Project (with pieces being displayed in the Gelb gallery) was explained with more detail during the night session. He elucidated the term “hapa” briefly and said, “Language is not something we own. Language moves.” Fulbeck described how he adopted the term “hapa,” which was once a derogatory term from the Hawaiian word “half” and shaped it into something more constructive, an icon—a movement. He explained first the long process of compiling pictures and statements from over one hundred hapas, and then how the project truly became a force dealing with multiraciality. The Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles asked Fulbeck to display his project pieces in their gallery. He agreed, and the exhibit began as a modest two-room affair with his pictures and corresponding statements in one room, and an empty room with Polaroid cameras and empty shelves in the other. The goal was to have guests come, answer the question “Who Are You,” and then display their personal works. Fulbeck hoped that the second room, which had the capacity to show 450 photos, would be full at the end of his project’s four-month stay. It was full by the end of the opening night. Eventually, Fulbeck’s Hapa Project yielded an outlet for social networking through the Polaroid shots among people of all ethnicities—not just hapas. “The most valuable thing about the project,” he said, “was meeting people that think differently from me.” It is evident that Fulbeck feels enormous respect and an affinity for the subjects of his photographs. He submitted to the aesthetic whims of the people he took pictures of and gave them full artistic rein, allowing them to choose the picture that went in his book and not directing or censoring their statements. He shared some of the responses to the identity question. One woman said , “I am goddess. I am woman. Confident. Arrogant.” Another wrote, “Every single day people ask me what I am…I’ve never asked anyone what they were.” Murata said, “I think because we were able to secure the Hapa Project show, it was really the icing on the cake. We wanted him to come and the exhibit to come but we didn’t think we had the exhibition space. After continued conversations with the art department, Ms. Harrigan said that they could make Gelb available.” Concerning the “We Are Andover” project, the school’s mini-chapter of Fulbeck’s, Murata added, “We could only have the space [for the Hapa Project] until November 8. With the logistics of having an open gallery after that, we thought that it would be interesting to continue [his work].” Both Fulbeck’s ASM speech and his presentation in Kemper dealt with issues facing us of “race” and identity. Although commonly tiptoed around, controversial subjects were brought up liberally. Fulbeck said, “It’s good to illicit a reaction and stir the audience. I always ask my classes, ‘What’s the opposite of love?’ And every time they say ‘hate.’ But those are just two extremes—the opposite is indifference. So I would rather an audience member push in one direction, no sit in the middle and waffle.” Splitting the majority of his time between teaching at the University of California in Santa Barbara and touring, it is clear that Fulbeck strives to educate students. He said, “[To me] it is most important [to educate students]. You guys are going to run the world. I’ll speak for any group—I’ve spoken for convalescents—but it’s you who have the power to change things.”