Hapa 1The Hapa Project tackles the question “Who am I?” The reply involves more than just a “check all the boxes that apply” answer…

(All pictures courtesy of Seaweed Productions/Kip Fulbeck)


Lynette ThumbnailHapa is more that a word in the dictionary, somewhere between hangnail and happy; this statement serves as a way to unify all those who have at least a partial Asia or Pacific Islander ancestry.

Hapa Definition

Last week I received the opportunity to attend “Race, Sex & Tattoos: The Kip Fulbeck Experience” at Oakland University. Quite an experience it was. Kip is an individual strong enough to touch ones heart and break in to cut down social barriers.

Fulbeck’s idea is simple. He unites all Hapa’s through a basic photograph and response. The picture is of basic Anthropological type to take away identity. The subject is not to have styled hair, make up nor jewelry. The shot is taken face with no smile, and bare from the shoulder down (no, not naked).
After taking several photographs, the power is out of Kip Fulbeck’s hands. He allows the subject to pick his or her favorite photograph.

The identity is found in the response from each of individuals. The Hapa is faced with nothing more that the question “Who am I?” No direction is given except to write a response.

Hapa 3
Pictured: The check mark sums it all up for this respondee.

Now it is the response that has become intriguing. Over 1200 portraits were taken throughout the country. Everyone was covered from the old to the young to the girl next store to the rock stars all across the country. He or she would make it into the book according to their response to the question. Some examples include:

Who am I? Shouldn’t you be asking my name first? (Chinese, African American)

“I am part Chinese and part Danish. I don’t want to tell people I am Danish though, because they think I am a pastry.” (Chinese, Danish)

I’m a very little boy in 5th grade that has no frands (friends). (Filipano, Mexican, Irish)

As Donna Seaman from the American Library Association describes, “Each person’s ethnic background reads like a poem.” Kip keeps the original handwriting, adding additional personality to each photograph.

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Pictured: Fulbeck’s subjects range from young to old, exemplifying both the innocence of youth and, at times, the sarcasm and feelings of alienation that are gained as someone enters their adult years.

The project is laid out with the photograph at the top, then the person’s response, and finally what the subject listed as his or her race. “Kip Fulbeck exhibits in film, photography, spoken word, and drawing, combining these media in his solo performances.” (seaweedproductions.com)

It seems as if his story begins at the opening of his exhibition in California a few years back. This showing had to last several months, so Kip tried to figure out a way to keep visitors coming back. His solution lied in allowing visitors take their own Polaroid and answer the “Who am I?” question. The phenomena had started. With in opening day, the 500 visitor slots had filled up. The response was so large that the surrounding gallery had to be turned into a Hapa edition to house all of the floor to ceiling responses. Comebacks resulted in everything from group photographs to a marriage proposal.

Kip began his project by removing the name and identity of each person. Then uniting under the title Hapa. It is important to note that only since 2000 have American residents been able to check more than one race box. As the only half-Asian child in his family Kip has been faced with the check one box decision, “It boils down to picking mom or dad”. Neither choice seems fair.

Now that the problem is slowly staring to be resolved by the “check all boxes that apply” answer, things are not as simple as that. Just look upon some of the photographs of older people to see their responses.

In a society that prefers simplified answers, is the “check all boxes that apply” enough?

To learn more about Kip Flubeck and his Hapa Project please visit: http://www.seaweedproductions.com/.

His work was on exhibited at the Oakland University Art Gallery (next to Meadow Brook Theater) through April 13, 2008;  hopefully it will return to Michigan soon!

Kip Fulbeck is the author of Part Asian, 100% Hapa; Permanence: Tattoo Portraits; and Paper Bullets: A Fictional Autobiography. He has been featured on CNN, MTV, and PBS. The exhibition has been to over 20 countries.” Kip is a professor of Art at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he has been named an Outstanding Faculty Member four times. He is also an avid surfer, guitar player, motorcycle rider, ocean lifeguard, and pug enthusiast. A complete overachiever despite being only half Chinese, Kip is also a world-ranked Masters swimmer.” (seaweedprodections.com)

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Pictured: Kip Fuibeck, (it seems almost wrong to give a face a name) the creator of the Hapa Project.

To get a true taste of Kips personality and humor, watch his short production on the web site of “Lilo & Me” (10 mins, 2003) to see a securitizing of Disney’s “ethnically ambiguous” characters (from Pocahontas to Aladdin) that all look like him.