09/13/2013 12:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Visibility Project Challenges Race and Gender Perception With Powerful Photographs

No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit. -Ansel Adams


Van, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo by Mia Nakano.

A common thread in the production and appreciation of all art is a singular idea with many facets and applications: perception. The Visibility Project confronts ideas of perception through photographs taken of "Asian American queer, women, trans and gender non-conforming folks." Photographer and videographer Mia Nakano created the project, which has shown nationally since 2009, and can currently be seen at The Leeway Foundation Offices in Philadelphia until October 4, 2013.


Rosalind, Austin, Texas. Photo by Mia Nakano

There are now over 100 participants in The Visibility Project. Ranging in age from 13 to 63 they come from 14 cities in 11 states in America. The work challenges definitions, but stands by two general qualifiers: Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer and Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI). Photographer Alison Lin of Philadelphia saw Nakano's work for the first time in 2009, at the National Queer Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) conference in Seattle, Washington. Lin says she was able to "recognize (her) privilege and ability to be a visible face" for the project because she is "out and supported by (her) family and community." After seeing the show in Seattle she was "thrilled to help organize" the project's photo shoot in Philadelphia, which included getting Nakano in touch with hotpot!.


Tamiko, Boston, Massachusetts. Photo by Mia Nakano.

Hotpot! is a Philadelphia, PA based organization of "Queer Asian and Pacific Islander, lesbian, bisexual women, trans, gender variant/queer/non-conforming folks" according to their website. Generally, they meet up over a pot luck meal and talk about their struggles and triumphs, politics, community and culture. One participant in the Visibility Project from hotpot! was Diana.


Trinity, San Francisco, California. Photo by Mia Nakano.

"It was a process," Diana said of deciding to be a part of the Visibility Project. "I'm still in the process of coming out in a lot of ways. I thought it might be helpful to folks experiencing the same hesitation and frustrations I've had coming out." Diana's experience sums up the overall experience of the show, the empowerment of the participants and the very common questions being asked within the photos that speak to the viewer beyond perceptions of race and gender. Fundamental questions of perception: How do I see myself and how do others see me? The photos can be found throughout the entirety of the Leeway Foundation show space and offices. In the primary show space the video plays interviews Nakano had with participants, asking them two questions, how they identify and if they feel they are accepted by others as they see themselves.


Leslie, Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Mia Nakano.

The Visibility Project is on currently on display at The Leeway Foundation, a grant making organization, which funds "women and trans artists and cultural producers working in communities at the intersection of art, culture, and social change." Communications Assistant Irit Reinheimer said of displaying the work that The Leeway Foundation "really enjoyed having the show," being able to make it available to the public and especially to the groups of students hotpot! had been able to bring to the show space. As for what is up next for the Visibility Project, Nakano said after the October 4 closing at the Leeway Foundation tintypes from the project will be shown at The Intersection for Arts in San Francisco starting October 2. Nakano is also busy participating with a new project, Uncovering Our Stories, where she interviews "Lesbian Gay Bi-Sexual Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Asians about their stories of immigration as a part of a larger campaign to ensure that LGBTQ and AAPI voices were included in immigration reform." Some of those stories can be viewed at the NQAPIA website. Two can be seen below.

Interview with Linda by Mia Nakano

Interview with Urooj by Mia Nakano.