“What are you?”
For many members of the Multiracial Student Union (MRSU), this question is a frequent probe into their racial or ethnic makeup. In a portrait series project debuting today in the Lamarche Gallery, members of MRSU answer this question in their own terms.
The project consists of portraits of students along with their responses to the question “What are you?” Members of MRSU shared different aspects of their identities, giving responses such as “a woman in STEM,” “a Gemini” and “full of love!”
“Sometimes asking ‘what are you’ can be a little invasive,” said Brigita Kant ’22, MRSU’s secretary. “Identities are very complex and they are a lot more complex than where you’re from, where your parents are from [and] the things that you do because each person is made up of a lot of different parts and a lot of different identities.”
“[The project] really reclaims the question and shifted away from [it] being an inherently racialized question,” said Ayana Harscoet ’21, co-founder of MRSU and an organizer of the project.
MRSU was created in the spring of last year by Harscoet and Flora Hamilton ’21. In addition to the group’s weekly dinners which began this semester, members wanted to create awareness of their presence within the broader Bowdoin community.
The project was inspired by other groups on campus, particularly the Asian Student Alliance (ASA) which put up a portrait project earlier this month that similarly showcases students’ complex identities. MRSU hopes to collaborate with other affinity groups on campus in the future.
“[This project] kind of provides a node to connect all those groups,” said Hamilton.
Inspiration for the exhibition was also drawn from artist Kim Fulbeck’s “The Hapa Project,” which features portraits of people of mixed Asian descent also responding to the question of “What are you?” Harscoet and Hamilton wanted to bring this question to mixed students of all racial and ethnic identities.
Members of MRSU hope that this project can bring more visibility to the group, both for mixed students who may be interested in joining and for others who are interested in learning about their peers.
“Given that Bowdoin is such a white space, and that affinity groups have really distinct identities that can sometimes be hard to access for people who bridge a lot of those identities, [we encourage] thinking about mixedness as another racial identity that’s really valid,” said Harscoet.
“Maybe you know people who have these really complex identities but don’t really talk about them, or they might not be as visible,” continued Harscoet. “This gallery space [is] a way for people to think about that a bit more.”
MRSU will host an opening reception for the portrait project in the Lamarche Gallery in David Saul Smith Union at 7 p.m. tonight and it will remain open until Winter Break.