Reclaiming Labels

As a mixed person it is often easy to feel as if you have lost your agency, your choice, and your personhood. The labels and names placed onto you can feel like they are erasing the person underneath. A common experience is the strange fascination or disgust some people find with your appearance. The prolonged stares can feel like a scientific observation in which my face is being dissected for the delight of observers.

The inspiration for this project came from a class I took recently in which for one week out of the semester we talked about social issues surrounding multiracialism. At first I was extremely excited because I had never gotten to discuss my mixed identity in class. However, as the week went on I grew more and more uncomfortable. Even though the teacher was very respectful of the topic, it seemed like every time she showed a picture of someone she had to mention what a beautiful mixed person they were. The main topic of discussion was a photo series of mixed race asian americans by Kip Fulbeck titled Part Asian, 100% Hapa. The photos were all square headshots on a white background. The subjects wore no visible clothes, no jewelry, etc. Next to each picture were short written statements from the participants responding to questions. While it was powerful to see other mixed people being talked about, the whole experience felt impersonal and sterile.

The final straw was the last class of the week. The teacher presented an article from Time magazine called “The New Face of America” that used a computer program to simulate what the mixed race children of two people would look like. The images were arranged in purely scientific grids and diagrams like a catalog. It felt unnerving to be associated with fabricated digital faces made for the fascination and amusement of readers. I felt like a specimen, a fetish, and an object. I decided to create new work which could reclaim some of that agency I felt I had lost by satirizing the associations people have with multiracialism and by presenting the subjects’ voices. I hope that I can help to reclaim our labels and provide healing to those who feel isolated in their experience.

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