Identity is more than race, and race has no biological basis, said Kip Fulbeck, who spoke at The Arts of Resistance, an Uncommon Conversation at USC Dornsife event in Doheny Memorial Library on Tuesday.
“I was born in a time when in some states, my parent’s marriage was illegal,” said Fulbeck, whose father is Caucasian and mother is Asian. As a child, Fulbeck, who grew up in Covina, Calif., said his classmates told him almost every joke imaginable that referenced Long Duk Dong, the foreign exchange student from China in the 1984 movie Sixteen Candles starring Molly Ringwald. With such stereotypical Asian characters, film and television perpetuated a particular stereotype that still exists in recent movies, including The Hangover, and television, such as the CBS series 2 Broke Girls.
Fulbeck, an artist and professor at UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego, began the event by showing a short video he made featuring his son, Jack, who Fulbeck said inspires him to make art and identify “the weirdest stuff in the world,” such as why every wristwatch advertisement sets the time on the watch to 10:10.
“When I go to Ikea, I wonder why I’m the only one who is bothered I’m being treated like a mouse,” that must follow a specific pathway to navigate the store, Fulbeck said.
This sense of awareness and realization that something “normal” is abnormal or weird is what Fulbeck said is the focus on his art, books, spoken word, video and speaking events.
“Part of my job as an artist is to point out the stuff that is already out there that is really weird.”
One example that Fulbeck asked the audience of the event to answer was: “Name a movie where an Asian-American kisses someone,” Fulbeck said to a silent audience. “Is that strange to you? … I think everything’s got to be challenged.”
The event, which was attended by students, faculty and friends of Fulbeck, is part of a three-part series organized by Indra Mukhopadhyay, a lecturer in the writing program who created the series around the theme of empire, imperialism and resistance.
“So much of resistance is conceived as the opposite of what’s happening,” said Mukhopadhyay, who first saw Fulbeck speak at the University of Michigan in 1999. “[Fulbeck’s] work gets you out of this binary.”
Mukhopadhyay also said he appreciated the humor Fulbeck included in his work, which serves as a cultural analysis.
“I’m really hopeful,” Mukhopadhyay said after the event. “[Fulbeck’s] art makes you feel positive that there still is a possibility of change and hope.”
Fulbeck presented pieces from his three book projects: Part Asian, 100% Hapa, Permanence: Tattoo Portraits and Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Kids, all of which feature a person photographed on a white background next to the person’s response to a question. In his book about Hapa identity, Fulbeck asked 1,200 participants — 100 of which Fulbeck included in the book — of all ages to write a response to the question, “What are you?” Responses varied from toddlers scribbling or drawing pictures to a man responding, “I make trash cans for a living. You think of trash, you think of Mike.”
“It’s not a book about race. It’s a book about identity,” said Fulbeck, who also said diversity encompasses more than race, including gender, economic status, physical abilities, country of origin, body type and much more.
Though “Hapa” is a slang term describing mixed heritage or roots of Asian and/or Pacific Islander ancestry, Fulbeck said the term can be loosely interpreted as participants of his project showed.
“The most important part of this project for me was that it forced me to be around people who were different than me,” said Fulbeck, who displayed this project in a five-month-long exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles in 2008, where visitors could respond and display their photos and responses to “What are you?”
“[Fulbeck’s] work is very unique and inspiring, especially as a reminder to why we’re here. He definitely gives a very unique to multiculturalism and what that movement is,” said Alanah Joseph, a junior majoring in communication. “We need more refreshing teachers [like Fulbeck] who bring energy to the room and inspire people to not be so adamant about the ‘A’ [letter grade], and focus on the learning experience in general.”