MISC Shows Fourth Annual Identity Project

Nicole Wong '17 Arts Editor 

The Identity Project is an annual photo exhibition in which students, faculty and staff of the Smith community are photographed and given the opportunity to define who they are in their own words. It is loosely based off of Kip Fulbeck’s “Hapa Project.”

The organization Multi-ethnic Interracial Smith College, hosted its fourth annual Identity Project on Oct. 25 in the Hearth Room at Unity House and in the Nolan Art Lounge in the Campus Center. The Identity Project was purposely held in conjunction with Otelia Cromwell Day on Nov. 6.

Fulbeck began the project in 2001, traveling the country, photographing over 1200 volunteer subjects who self-identified as hapa, defined for the project as mixed ethnic heritage with partial roots in Asian or Pacific Islander ancestry. Each individual was photographed in a similar minimalist style (directly head-on, unclothed from the shoulders up, and without jewelry, glasses, excess make-up or purposeful expression) after being photographed, participants identified their ethnicities in their own words, then handwrote their response to the question, “What are you?”

This moving photography project provided a space for individuals who might otherwise be “boxed in” by racial and ethnic categories to challenge those same categories and vocalize what their identity means to them. Fulbeck created the hapa project to promote awareness and recognition of the millions of multiracial and multiethnic individuals of Asian and Pacific Islander descent; to give voice to multiracial people and previously ignored ethnic groups; to dispel myths of exoticism, hybrid vigor and racial homogeneity; to foster positive identity formation and self-image in multiracial children; and to encourage solidarity and empowerment within the multiracial and hapa community.

MISC has extended this project to all members of the Smith community, and hopes that the Identity Project will be an annual forum for students, faculty and staff to self-identify and critically think about what identity means. MISC member Raven Fowlkes Witten ’17 commented on MISC’s process in setting up the project: “Since we already had all the photos from previous installations in Unity House, we simply took it down from Family Weekend and put it back up in the Nolan Art Lounge. There weren’t many difficulties but it was definitely really exciting to have our project seen by a wider audience.” The exhibition coincided with the annual Otelia Cromwell Day; both aim to create dialogue about race at Smith and in the world.