“Representation.” “Identity.” “Pride.”
The walls of the Blue Gallery tell a complicated story of solidarity and individuality—photographs of 15 Bowdoin students encircle the room, printed in color and black-and-white, pasted on red backgrounds. Quotes, taken from interviews with the students pictured, are printed in varying styles and colors directly on the photos, highlighting the diversity of individual experiences with Asian and Asian American identities.
The photo exhibition, entitled “OUTLOUD” and sponsored by the Asian Students Alliance (ASA), opened last Sunday. It celebrates the participants’ Asian or Asian-American heritage and aims to highlight their complexity.
“We just really want the image and text to talk, and just be a platform for people to communicate this complexity of being Asian or Asian American,” said ASA co-president Yvonne Fang ’20, whose image is included in the exhibit.
Many of the interviews that are presented discuss issues of stereotypes or bias incidents, creating a space to connect with students who may have had similar experiences. One portrait reads, “I wish people would see beyond the label of ‘international student.’”
“It’s nice to see similarities or be able to connect with a photo when you see it,” said ASA co-president Alex Lee ’20. “It does make you reflect personally and be like, ‘Oh, this has happened to me before’ or, ‘Oh, this is something I can relate to.’”
However, the exhibit also presents a celebratory outlook on Asian and Asian-American identity, through fashion and style. For this reason, participants were asked to dress in a way that was meaningful to their own identity and self-expression and to bring an object of sentimental value to them.
Interspersed between portraits of students are photos of their sentimental objects: articles of clothing, gifts from family members and jewelry are common choices.
“My grandmother from Pakistan gave this to me,” reads the caption of one photo of a ring. “It reminds me of where I come from.”
“It creates a sense of solidarity or that you’re not alone in experiencing certain things,” said Aimee An ’20, who is pictured in the exhibit. “Not solidarity based on microaggressions necessarily, but also on the positive aspects of being Asian.”
Photo exhibits like “OUTLOUD” have been an annual tradition for ASA since its first photoshoot titled “#ThisIs2016,” went viral on the group’s Facebook page in 2016. Last year’s exhibit featured over 100 photos. However, as photographer Daniel Jang ’20 explained, this year is different.
“This time we wanted to focus on the individual person and go more in depth into their experiences,” said Jang. “So we didn’t focus on quantity, but more on just telling individual stories.”
Telling these stories proved a valuable experience for those who were interviewed for the project.
“[The interview] made me think more about how the Asian American side of me affects who I am and how that’s intertwined with my identity,” said An. “Not only did we contribute or try to share our identities, but I think even just going through the process further helps you reflect on your own identity as well.”
Many students expressed their wishes that other students, beyond those belonging to affinity groups, take the time to visit the exhibit and listen to their peers.
“I hope [Bowdoin students] first just see all the Asian international students that are a part of this campus and recognize all the different backgrounds they come from,” said Brahm Desai ’23, an international student who participated in the photoshoot.
“A recurring topic in the interviews was that people really hoped that people on campus were more curious and willing to learn about different complex identities,” said Fang. “And I feel like this is a step towards that.”
The exhibit is on display in Blue Gallery in David Saul Smith Union and will be up for the remainder of the semester.