A national portrait + video collection dedicated to the Queer Asian American Women & Trans* community. The Visibility Project breaks barriers through powerful imagery and storytelling.

The Visibility Project is a national community powered media arts project. 
We document stories and use photography to create impact and 
make the Queer AAPI Women and Trans* community visible.

Thanks so much for your interest in the Visibility Project. Stoked to work, engage, and build community. We are hosting two days of story gathering in Chicago! Saturday will be hosted at the Uptown offices of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago and Sunday will be hosted at the Lakeview home of an allied community member. Both are close to public transportation, have some street parking, and are wheelchair accessible. Below are some FAQs about participating. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions. 

Click to register and share your story.

Mia Nakano 
Director, Visibility Project 
mia@visibilityproject.org 

ELIGIBILITY 
This project is open to Queer Asian American Women, Gender non-conforming, and Trans people, and the definitions of this are broad: mixed-race asian, asian born/living in the US, south asian, southeast asian, pacific islanders, etc. If you are a gay/bi asian american cis male, or queer person of non Asian/Asian American descent, support by allyship, giving shout outs on social media, or whatever ways you’re excited about support. 

WHAT TO EXPECT

The shoots take 1 hour and are a combination of photography and video. We’ll do the video first and I’ll leave time at the beginning to answer any questions. You’ll fill out a survey + model release prior to starting.

WHAT TO WEAR

Wear colors and no logos, unless you really wanna rep that logo. A lot of folks have historically worn black, white, or grey, I’m trying to spice up the colors. BUT! If black/white/grey is what floats your boat, go for it.

HOW WILL THE PHOTOS & VIDEOS BE USED

All content will be posted on the Visibility Project website, the VP social media outlets (twitter, tumblr, facebook, etc) and open to publication in a soon to be published photo-book. The Videos will ultimately be transcribed into english, so text is searchable online, and translated into an Asian language from participant backgrounds. Basically this means that these stories will have an international reach! The Videos will also be “locked down” so that no website outside of the VP or Hyphen magazine can embed or download them. We cannot guarantee the unlicensed distribution of the photos, just because the internets is hard to control.

HYPHEN MAGAZINE

The midwest & southern tours are a collaboration between the VP and Hyphen magazine. Nakano is a founder of Hyphen and the creator of Hyphen’s LGBTQ section. Your story may be shared on Hyphen’s website and social media, which has a huge national reach in the mainstream AAPI community. 

DO I GET THE PHOTOS & VIDEOS

You will get low resolution images of 3 images from the shoot. You’ll receive the images in 6-8 weeks. You are free to use them for facebook + social media + bio pics + etc, credit must be given to Mia Nakano Photography & The Visibility Project. 

The videos are very backlogged, by a three years. Just to be real about that. When they are finished, you’ll have 1 week to review the final video and request edits/content removal. They will be uploaded to a password protected space during that review time. You may also choose to not have your video published, and instead have your story shared anonymously through a full or partial written transcription. 

MODEL RELEASE

All participants must sign a “catch all” model release. However if you ever want to be removed from the project website, we are happy to accommodate that. Printed materials or final video productions already in distribution cannot be retracted.

CONFIRMATIONS & CANCELLATIONS

We work with registered participants on a first come first serve basis, if you find you can’t make your session let us know asap so other folks may participate!  Also register with an email address you check frequently, because more information will be sent to confirmed participants.

The Visibility Project is fiscally sponsored by Asian Americans for Civil Rights and Equality (AACRE). Funded by the Creative Work Fund, Red Envelope Giving Circle, generous individual donors, and community supporters!

Visibility_Project_South2

An editor of the Apogee Journal wrote one of the best articles about the Visibility Project to date. A huge thanks to Cecca Ochoa for the brilliant write up and thank you for your hard work.

ABOUT APOGEE
Apogee was founded by writers of color and international students at Columbia. Our dual purpose is to showcase writers from the periphery and to provide a platform for all writers to thoughtfully engage with issues of race, class, and identity.
Apogee: The point in an object’s orbit farthest from the center.We are writers of fiction, nonfiction and poetry; we have studied literature, languages, political science and development; we have worked in several activist fields and in the publishing industry. We are united by a desire to read and publish fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction that pushes social boundaries and explores issues of race and cultural diversity.We are eager to publish work that sits at some distance from the mainstream, and most excited by that which seeks to acknowledge, interrogate or disrupt this distance.

A Queer Aperture: Mia Nakano and the Visibility Project

by apogeelit

by Cecca Ochoa,  Editor

Mia Nakano is a photographer, served as the  founding photo editor for Hyphen Magazine, and is currently the lead artist for the Visibility Project. In August, Ochoa met with the photographer in her Oakland home to discuss the project. All images copyright of Mia Nakano, visibilityproject.org.

A thought experiment:
Imagine a body without race or gender. What do you see?
Imagine a body with race and gender. Who do you see?

Last week, Germany announced that it will be the first European nation to put a third gender distinction on birth certificates. Nepal instituted a third gender citizenship certificate earlier this year and Sweden has recently established a third gender pronoun. These are exciting wins for the LGBTQ community whose mainstream US efforts have been ardently and monogamously wed to gay marriage at the expense of issues like trans healthcare and representation for (binary) gender non-conforming individuals.

Outside of the United States’ mainstream LGBT political agenda, these conversations are taking place. The questions that are being asked are not as easy as he or she, or a third or fifth option. Gender does not exist in a vacuum; it seems that in this society every body has a racial identity, a gender, and a sexual orientation. The intersections of these various facets of one’s identity determines one’s access to rights: appropriate health care, mobility, the right to live without the fear of identity-related violence- to name a few well worn examples. The social and political privileges a body experiences is not based on one dimension of identity, but a compendium of many.

The Visibility Project, founded and spearheaded by Mia Nakano, is an effort to engage an identity that includes race, diaspora, gender, and sexuality. The project  aims not only to deconstruct reductive classifications around sexuality and gender, but to contextualize them within the Asian American community.  The project gives a face and a name to an overlooked polis: queer Asian Americans.

Image

One question that  Nakano asks participants is, “What does visibility mean to you?”

Sasha, a twenty- five year old South Asian New Yorker answers the question: “Being visible means having a presence.  I know for myself, and for the queer API people that I am blessed to have in my life, we are constantly fending for our own presence.”

To Nakano, visibility is a creative act.  “Culture saturates our brains with ideas about  our identity, especially as it relates to race and gender.  To me visibility is about individuals shaping their own visual and actual language to express the specific intersections of who they are, so that other people can see them more clearly. Or, forget other people, so that we can see ourselves more clearly.”

When I asked her what she thought the biggest fight facing the Asian American queer rights movement was, Nakano answered,  “there are so many answers depending on who you ask and where you are. Everything is interconnected. There’s a swell in LGBTQ competency and understanding across many cultures. This means providing language support for people coming out to their loved ones who don’t speak English as their primary language. There’s anti-bullying,  immigration reform, job security, access to health care, addressing racism in non-white communities, and so on. All of these struggles can’t be presented in hierarchy. There is no separating any of our identities. They make up the whole of who we are.”

Image

Nakano is fourth generation Japanese American. She lives and breathes photography; her one-bedroom rental is covered in photographs. Film and lenses are squirreled away next to the bath towels and her garage has been converted into a fully operational darkroom. As a photographer, she has spent many years framing her identity as a queer Asian American. In 2002, she was the founding photo editor of Hyphen Magazine and also the only out queer person on staff. She made it her business to ensure there was a consistent and meaningful representation of the LGBT community within the magazine.

In 2007, Nakano went to Nepal for a photojournalism internship at the Kathmandu Post. At that time, Nakano said, she was perceived as “quasi-butch, definitely queer,” although she has never subscribed to the butch/femme dichotomy. Concerned for her personal safety, she researched the LGBT community in Nepal and found the Blue Diamond Society, an LGBT group that provided support for people coming out as well as HIV/AIDS services. Surprisingly, Nakano found only one photo of anyone associated with the organization: the Blue Diamond Society’s Executive Director, Sunil Pant. One man seemed to represent the entire queer rights movement in Nepal. Once there, Nakano got to know the other members of the organization, and with their permission, began taking photos of the LGBT community there.

“Once I was back in the US, I wanted to do the same thing that I had been doing in Nepal. At that time, there was extremely limited visual accessibility to the Asian American queer rights movement.” Thus, the Visibility Project started. “The original call out was to a group of friends and community folks to have their photo taken to be a part of a portrait series. The response was a little overwhelming. All of the spaces got filled so quickly that more dates needed to get added in. I went into the project really uncomfortable and nervous. Shooting portraits and working with people was totally new, and I was more focused on that than planning for the future. I just wanted to ensure that my community was documented and visible.”

Image

Nakano has interviewed public health workers, poets, university professors, sex workers, community elders who were organizing with Harvey Milk and through the AIDS Crisis, and young queers fighting in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. Nakano has shown the portraits at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, the Leeway Foundation in Philadelphia, and at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. As the project has gained momentum, so has her vision.

Over the last seven years, Nakano has documented over 130 female and trans identified Asian Americans in 12 states and 14 cities from Honolulu, Hawaii to Baltimore, Maryland. When she is touring, she sleeps on couches or the spare beds of friends, surrounded by a pile of lighting equipment and camera bags. She usually gives herself two days in a place and schedules to meet with ten to fifteen people per stop.  Her eventual goal is to hit every state, and to compile the Visibility Project into a book with photos and excerpts of interviews translated into the languages of the participants’ heritage.

The book will also contain a glossary of terms that the participants have used or created to self-identify, such as butch, transgender, masculine-of-center, and two-spirit. She hopes this resource will be useful to people coming out as queer or trans, and, for those who are grappling with how to bring the elements of their identity into focus. “There can be something really terrifying about being in a marginalized body and finding no one else around that looks like you. The same goes for asking yourself, ‘who am I?’ and not having the right words to know yourself. This book doesn’t offer any answers, but it will show an enormous diversity of possibilities. ”

Philadelphia Shoot, June 2013

Confirmed Date

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Location

William Way LGBT Community Center
1315 Spruce St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Are you eligible

This project is open to Queer Asian American Women, Gender non-conforming, and Trans people only. If you are a gay/bi asian american cis male, or queer person of non Asian/Asian American descent, please let me know asap. You can support us by donating, volunteering, or spreading the word.

About the shoot

Each session takes about 60 minutes. It begins with mellow interview questions like: Where were you born? How old are you? What’s your ethnicity? Why did you choose to participate? The second part still photography.

Image + video use

All media will be posted on the Visibility Project website, facebook, and Vimeo page, with other potential future uses such as media releases, articles, lectures, exhibitions, book, etc.

Can I use the images?

Participants will receive 3-5 images via email and can use them for their facebook pages, bio images, promotion, etc. HOWEVER, the photographer & project must receive photo credit, and commercial/publication use must receive pre-approval in writing. We also super appreciate links to our website and facebook pages.

Eventbrite - Visibility Project  //  Philadelphia, PA
We work on a first come first serve basis, if you can’t make your session please let us know asap so other folks can participate!

Give_Out_Day_QueerCulturalCenter-01

QUEER CULTURAL CENTER – GIVE OUT DAY

In 2012, I was honored to join the board of The Queer Cultural Center (QCC), one of the largest funders of queer artists in the state of California. We commission about 20 artists a year to create new work, and also provides training in to help the artists/groups succeed. Each year we put on the National Queer Arts Festival.

The website of QCC is literally an online encyclopedia of historic to emerging queer artists including: Bill T. Jones, Alice Walker, Adrienne Rich, Marga Gomez, Justin Chin, Cherrie Moraga and Dorothy Allison.

QCC is participating in the National GiveOUTday. We need your support to continue our work supporting, educating, and producing queer arts. Click here to donate!!!

http://giveout.razoo.com/story/Qcc-The-Center-For-Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Art-And-Culture

Click here to donate!!!

LEEWAY FOUNDATION EXHIBITION + VISIBILITY PROJECT PANEL WITH HOTPOT!

Excited to announce the first Visibility Project Panel discussion, along with an exhibition, at the Leeway Foundation in Philadelphia. In May 2012, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with several members of a Queer API Women + Trans group in Philadelphia called hotpot!. Four members including Alison Lin, Miki, and Laurent Widjaya will join VP Director Mia Nakano in a discussion about their experiences participating and why this work is needed.

Eight images have been acquired by the Leeway Foundation. They’re also producing a small catalog of the work!

Opening
June 21st, 6p-8p (artist presentation + hotpot! panel)

Exhibition
June 12th – October 4th, 2013

Location
The Philadelphia Building
1315 Walnut Street, Suite 832
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Co-Sponsors

Asian Americans United, Asian Arts Initiative, Boat People SOS – Delaware Valley, hotpot!, Japanese Americans Citizens League – Philadelphia, One Love Movement, Twelve Gates Arts, and the William Way Center.

API EQUALITY – NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
My good friend Monna Wong was recently appointed to be Executive Director of API Equality – Northern California, an org that works with the LGBT Asian Pacific Islander community to combat homophobia and transphobia in the API community while uplifting the voices and experiences of API folks within the LGBT community.

They must raise $7000 to support their summer internship program, which is so important to the longevity of the Queer API movement.

If you donate $120 in the name of the Visibility Project, (representing one dollar for the Queer API folks + Allies they’ve trained all year), you will get a free tintype of a digital image you send delivered to your door! Tintypes will be printed in early July.

A tintype is an image printed on a metal plate and a historical photographic process from the 1800s. Here’s a little history, information, and some more sample images

[portfolio slideshow]

Confirmed Date

CANCELLED DUE TO FAMILY EMERGENCY

About the shoot

Each session takes about 60 minutes. It begins with a super mellow interview questions like: Where were you born? How old are you? What’s your ethnicity? Why did you choose to participate? The second part still photography. Minimalistic images against a solid background.

Image + video use

All media will be posted on the Visibility Project website and Vimeo page, with other potential future uses such as media releases, articles, lectures, exhibitions, book, etc.

Can I use the images?
Participants will receive 3-5 images via email and can use them for their facebook pages, bio images, promotion, etc. HOWEVER, the photographer & project must receive photo credit, and commercial/publication use must receive pre-approval in writing. We also super appreciate links to our website and facebook pages.


Click here to register

We work on a first come first serve basis, if you can’t make your session please let us know asap so other folks can participate! Register with an email address you check frequently, more information will be sent after you register.


We’re asking for help contributing key components to the project. Specifically seeking folks who want to create social change and are interested in helping us cultivate a powerful national community resource.

Peeps who are based in the Bay Are are ideal, but opportunities are available regardless of location. Must be reliable, consistent, and contribute up to 8 hours per month. We ask for a 4-month commitment, but are open to creative timelines and project proposals.

How to Apply

Submit a 2-3 paragraph cover letter
Resume outlining relevant experience
Schedule of availability
Email – community (at) visibilityproject (dot) org

Editorial Intern

Watch a few videos, transcribe into a word or google document, and send it in. Super simple and the interviews are pretty amazing and inspiring. Requesting a commitment of 4 participant transcriptions. Interview length can range from 10 to 45 minutes.

Copy-Editor Intern

Review the transcripts of the videos and website content. Make sure all the proper and improper grammar is in it’s place. The project is about self-identification, there are terms which many not come up in your spell check. But wouldn’t it be fun to add them in?

Research Intern

Spearhead the “resources” section of the website by researching regional organizations from LGBTQ, Asian American, Arts, Health, Advocacy, Policy, etc. Create a list of established groups who support the communities that Visibility Project participants exist in.

Production Intern

Help prepare images for posting on website, basic Photoshop are required: color correction, light retouching, burning and dodging.

 

We’re headed to the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance conference from July 19th – July 22nd [NQAPIA (en-camp-e-ah)], in Washington, DC. Between the workshops and speakers we’re going to be squeezing in a shoot or two. Click for info about shoot details and contact us if you’d like to schedule a session.

Register for a session here

Date

Saturday, August 11th, 2012
Times: 11a-5p

Location

Portland State University Queer Resource Center
1812 SW 6th Ave
458 Smith Memorial Student Union (in the north stairwell)
Portland, OR

About the shoot

Each session takes about 45 minutes. It will start off with a super mellow interview where you’ll be asked questions such as: Where were you born? How old are you? What’s your ethnicity? Why did you choose to participate? The second part still photography. Minimalistic images against a solid background.

Image + video use

All media will be posted on the Visibility Project website. and there are many potential uses for them such as lectures at schools, exhibitions, book, etc.

Can I use the images?
Participants will have access to an online gallery. The photographer & project must receive photo credit, and commercial/publication use must receive pre-approval.

Register for a slot

We work on a first come first serve basis, if you can’t make your session please let us know asap so other folks can participate! Register with an email address you check frequently, more information will be sent after you register.


Camping out in NYC for a few weeks this summer and we’re taking appointments for shoots. Contact us if you’d like to schedule a session.  The location is off the G-line in Brooklyn.  Click here for more info 

Confirmed Date

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Location

Portland, Maine

About the shoot

Each session takes about 60 minutes. It begins with a super mellow interview questions like: Where were you born? How old are you? What’s your ethnicity? Why did you choose to participate? The second part still photography. Minimalistic images against a solid background.

Image + video use

All media will be posted on the Visibility Project website and Vimeo page, with other potential future uses such as media releases, articles, lectures, exhibitions, book, etc.

Can I use the images?
Participants will receive 3-5 images via email and can use them for their facebook pages, bio images, promotion, etc. HOWEVER, the photographer & project must receive photo credit, and commercial/publication use must receive pre-approval in writing. We also super appreciate links to our website and facebook pages.


Click here to register

We work on a first come first serve basis, if you can’t make your session please let us know asap so other folks can participate! Register with an email address you check frequently, more information will be sent after you register.

AAWAA: Hungry Ghost
Hungry Ghost: Yearning for Fulfillment
A Visual and Literary Art Exhibition
Curated by Lisa Chiu

Location
Thoreau Center of Sustainability, Building #1014
Tourney Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94129

Dates of exhibition:
Monday, April 23 – Saturday, June 9, 2012

Opening reception:
Thursday, April 26, 2012, 5-8:30p

Tintypes from the Visibility Project will be on view, along with works from other Asian American Women Artists.

Stephanie Han | Elaine Gin Louie | Mitsuko Brooks | Catherine Uthasoonthorn | Nancy Uyemura | Elizabeth Travelslight | Solongo Tseekhuu | Susan Wingham | Lucy Liew | Wei Ma | Julie Huynh | Vivian Truong | Julia Kuo | Linda Shiue | Rosie Kar | Zilka Joseph | Ganga Dharmappa | Grace Hwang Lynch | Wei Ming Dariotis | Leah Silveius | Sokunthary Svay | Jennifer Cheng | Octavia Baker | Michelle Salnaitis | Leslie Zeitler | Karen Chew | Leslie Kitashima | Pamela Ybanez | Cat Chiu Phillips | Stephanie Yu | Susan Kitazawa | Amy Lam | Choppy Oshiro | Jaimee Itagaki | Linn Chiu | Khay Hembrador | Cynthia Tom | Mia Nakano

Mia Nakano was invited by the Queer Studies department to give a lecture about queer arts, photography, and social change-making at Sonoma State University on Thursday, April 26th.

Queer studies department lecture
12-12:50p

And and!!! Jai Arun Ravine just released their first collection of works which was published by TinFish Press Books. Click on the TinFish link to purchase a copy of your very own.

“This powerful first collection by Thai American writer Jai Arun Ravine pulls itself and its readers across geographies, cultures, languages, identities, and genders in a performance of transformation. Ravine weaves Thai and English, the past and the present, the lyric and the narrative, into a hypnotizing poetic dance. Additionally, Ravine explores the documentation of identity and citizenship through re-articulating charts, pages of a child’s composition book, and a birth certificate. This collection explores the seams of identity and origin and how they are painfully and beautifully entwined.”




Desperately seeking LGBT memories of World War II incarceration


May 10, 2011 By TINA TAKEMOTO
Two years ago, I was invited to participate in E.G. Crichton’s project “Lineage: Matchmaking in the Archive” in which artists, writers and musicians were asked to respond to personal collections in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society archive. I was “matched” with Jiro Onuma, a gay Issei who moved to the U.S. from Iwate Prefecture, Japan in 1923 at age 19. Compared to some of the other collections in the archive, Onuma’s is rather modest. It consists of a few photo albums, some personal documents and papers, and a small collection of homoerotic male physique magazines and ephemera.

As I looked through pictures of the elegantly dressed Onuma posing with his male friends and lovers around San Francisco and other travel locations, two photographs captured my attention. Both were taken while Onuma was imprisoned at the Topaz concentration camp in Central Utah during World War II. The first is a group portrait showing Onuma and his mess hall workmates in front of Block #3 Dining Hall. The second shows Onuma, his close friend Ronald, and another man casually posing together on barren prison ground with a guard tower and barbed wire visible in the distance…

Read more at NichiBei.org.




On June 23, 2011, as a part of the Queer Cultural Center’s National Queer Arts Festival, two artists created a new live variety/talk show, called the Ms. Tang Tang Show. It was broadcast streaming live all over the US, and a whole slew of Visibility Project participants were a part of the cast and crew. There was also an exhibition of the VP in the main lobby, with over 100 people in attendance. Check out The Ms. Tang Tang Show website for more info.