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Photographic Exhibition “Kip Fulbeck: Part Asian, 100% Hapa” Explores Perceptions of Identity, Questions Notions of Race, Ethnicity

Artist Fulbeck Photographed Over 1,000 Individuals of Multiracial Backgrounds, Asked Each Subject to Respond to Question Most Often Asked of Hapa: “What Are You?” Show Set to Open June 8 at Japanese American National Museum

A remarkable set of photographs of individuals of multiracial heritage and their responses to the most common question asked of people of mixed-race background—“What are you?”—comprises the heart of the thought-provoking art exhibition, kip fulbeck: part asian, 100% hapa, which opens at the Japanese American National Museum on June 8 and runs through October 29, 2006.

Three years ago, Fulbeck, who is an award-winning filmmaker and artist, began photographing multiracial individuals around the country. The photographs are all taken the same way—from the collarbone up, without clothing, jewelry, glasses, makeup, or even purposeful expression. The images frame the subjects’ heads and shoulders and, according to Fulbeck, play upon and critique the official photographs each person has taken for their driver’s licenses, passports and other forms of identification. The twist is that each individual has the opportunity to respond in their own handwriting to the frequently asked question of all individuals of diverse racial backgrounds: “What are you?” The subjects vary in age, gender and background. Besides their statements, the subjects are only identified by their racial and/or ethnic background—also designated by the subjects themselves.

The term hapa is a Hawai‘ian word meaning “half” or “portion.” Used in the phrase hapa haole, it originally referred to people who were half Hawaiian and half Caucasian—usually in a derogatory way implying impurity. Over time, its pejorative connotation diminished and the word hapa came to be used both in Hawai‘i and on the continent as an identifier for multiracial people of partial Asian/Pacific Islander ancestry. Now used as a term of pride by an ever-expanding hapa community, it fills a void intrinsic to a country that does not readily recognize multiraciality.

Fulbeck (who is a mix of Chinese, English, and Irish) was told by his full-blooded Chinese cousins when he was five years old that he was hapa. He never gave much thought to the term as a child, but as he got older and experienced the tremendous lack of knowledge relating to mixed-race identity (or worse, the negative connotations associated with it) he began thinking about ways to promote a more realistic and human portrayal of hapa identity. Integral to this process was utilizing the term hapa in a positive manner.

“I think part of that is the fact that it’s a reclamation of a once-pejorative term," Fulbeck explained, “and part of it is it’s the first label that wasn’t put on us. ‘Eurasian’? ‘AfroAsian’?—these types of words always feel a bit scientific to me. ‘Amerasian’ has that whole 1975-Vietnamese-G.I. connotation in some people’s minds. ‘Hybrid’ or ‘half-breed’ are problematic. ‘Mixed blood’ is okay, but when you get down to it, that’s really just about everybody. Hapa feels a bit more fluid, less formal. Its use is still evolving.”

Initially, Fulbeck began taking photographs for his web site, “The Hapa Project.” He planned on making the photographs accessible through the site at ( and put out a simple call for willing subjects. The response was immediate and exciting—so much so that Fulbeck proposed publishing a book using some of the photographs and the written responses as a way to help fund the project. The book, Part Asian, 100% Hapa, has just been released through Chronicle Books, and forms the basis of this exhibition.

“The Japanese American National Museum is honored to have kip fulbeck: part asian, 100% hapa presented at our institution,” stated Irene Hirano, President and CEO of the National Museum. “As an artist’s project, this exhibition delves into a subject of vital importance, not just to the Japanese American community, but to our nation and our world. According to the last Census in 2000, one in three Japanese Americans is of multiracial heritage and individuals who self-identify as multi-ethnic are a growing segment of our country. The Japanese American National Museum intends to examine this subject thoroughly and this exhibition is just the first of many upcoming programs.”


The exhibition displays the essence of Fulbeck’s project, including a cross section of over 80 photographs juxtaposed next to each subjects’ statements on the walls of the galleries of the Watanabe and Miyawaki Galleries of the National Museum’s Pavilion. While the names of the subjects are absent, Fulbeck has carefully included the racial heritage of each person according to the subject’s own designation. The combinations are endless, including “filipino, scottish, german”; “cuban, japanese, jewish”; “hakka, shanghainese, welsh, english, german, swiss”; and “ghanaian, chinese, croatian, scottish, irish, german, indian, british, native american”.

The individual statements reflect the myriad of experiences of the subjects. One man wrote, “I am a daily contest to guess what I am.” One youngster stated, “I’m a girl. I’m American. I’m seven. I am Hanna.” Another woman recalled, “My last boyfriend told me he liked me because of my race. So I dumped him.” And a young man described himself as “an American kid who celebrates Hanukkah with his Jewish stepfather, prays to Buddha with his Buddhist momma, and then goes to midnight Mass with his Christian father and waits for Santa Claus to come down the chimney. Yeah.”

On Saturdays during the run of the exhibition, visitors can take a Polaroid photograph in the gallery and add their images and personal responses to the question of “What are you?” to the exhibition’s interactive display. With new subjects being constantly added, the exhibition will continue to evolve. In addition to this gallery activity, a video monitor will be showing one of Fulbeck’s short films, Lilo and Me, a parody of how people of color are homogenized by mainstream media.

In conjunction with this exhibition,, a web site containing one of the world’s largest Nikkei-related databases of history and culture, will feature supporting materials for kip fulbeck: part asian, 100% hapa. An extensive video interview with Fulbeck will be featured in the “Real People section with clips that explore his personal experiences. The “Community Forum” will feature a new bulletin board on Hapa identity, open to participation and available for questions.

Individuals who visit the galleries and have their own photographs taken along with their written responses may have their materials submitted to the soon-to-launch “Nikkei Album” section of the web site. Also, Discover Nikkei will inaugurate a series of “podcasts”, biweekly ten-minute audio programs that explore “what Hapa sounds like” through interviews, narration and music. New programming will be posted regularly.

Kip Fulbeck

Kip Fulbeck has been making films and art about Hapa identity since 1990. Known as the nation’s leading artist on the subject, he has spoken and exhibited his award-winning films, performance, and photography throughout the world, including PBS, the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial, Singapore International Film Festival, Locarno International Film Festival, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Bonn Videonale, the National Conference On Race in Higher Education, and the Honolulu Contemporary Arts Museum. The director of the landmark video Banana Split (1991) and author of Paper Bullets: A Fictional Autobiography (University of Washington Press, 2001), Fulbeck is the inaugural recipient of the Hapa Issues Forum Prism Award for the Arts.

Fulbeck founded the Hapa Project as a way to “find people like me, people that may have gone through similar situations that I went through.” Through the project’s web site as well as a site on, thousands of visitors have made contact and left their own statements. This led to the creation of his photographic book, Part Asian, 100% Hapa, which has just been published by Chronicle Books. Fulbeck is currently Professor and Chair of Art at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he is a three-time recipient of the Outstanding Faculty Member Award and also an affiliate faculty member in Asian American Studies and Film Studies.

Part Asian, 100% Hapa

Part Asian, 100% Hapa (Chronicle Books 2006), with portraits by Kip Fulbeck, foreword by Sean Lennon and afterward by Professor Paul Spickard, reproduces over 100 photographs of individuals who volunteered to have their faces photographed by Fulbeck for the Hapa Project. Fulbeck, who literally traveled the country, gave each volunteer the opportunity to handwrite responses to the question most commonly asked of multi-racial people: “What are you?”

Described as a “photo album of the twenty-first-century global village,” the book contains “Fulbeck’s simply composed portraits” which are “profoundly evocative.” The book is available through the National Museum’s Store on-site or online at

Public Programs

See Exhibition-related public programs document.

Japanese American National Museum

The Japanese American National Museum is dedicated to fostering greater understanding and appreciation for America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by preserving and telling the stories of Americans of Japanese ancestry. Since its incorporation in 1985, the National Museum has grown into an internationally recognized institution, presenting award-winning exhibitions, groundbreaking traveling exhibits, educational public programs, innovative video documentaries and cutting-edge curriculum guides. The National Museum raised close to $60 million to renovate an historic building in 1992 and open a state-of-the-art Pavilion in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo Historic District in 1999. There are now over 50,000 members and donors representing all 50 states and 16 different countries.

General Information

The Japanese American National Museum is located at 369 East First Street in the historic Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 625-0414 or visit National Museum hours are Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for seniors; $4 for students and children; free for Museum members and children under age six. Admission is free to everyone on Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and every third Thursday of the month from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Metered street parking and public parking lots are conveniently located near the National Museum for a nominal fee.