“Blurry Sunflower Fragments of my Being”, a portrait of myself.

Hello, all readers! My name is Arnold Ngaophasy Pravong. I am a gay Laotian American with an interest in Asian American studies and psychology. My final project is about people’s identities and their development, conveyed through photography.

Throughout the Kresge course, we explored many different works about identity, culture, and language. My project is inspired by the various films, texts, and photos centered around one’s identity, such as Daryl B. Jones’s “The Middle: Mirrored Reflections of Chicanx and Mexican Americans” documentary, Teju Cole’s article “When the Camera Was a Weapon of Imperialism. (And When It Still Is.)”, and Catt Smalls’s “SweetXheart” game.

I felt this project needed to be done because it takes a long time and a lot of work for most people to understand their identities and how they come together to form themselves. For most, it’s a lifelong journey that is not linearly progressive. I hope my art helps you understand how your identities shape who you are and your connections to others. Through the creation of these photographs, I aimed to create a project to help those who are perhaps unsure of where they fit in the world find others who are like them; in other words, I want the project to help others find a better sense of belonging. I also want this project to help open up the audience’s mind and diversify their understanding of identity, specifically how it relates to them.

Below, I have three photographs, each addressing different aspects of identity. One of the photos is a self-portrait, the one you got a preview of above; the others are portraits of close friends who gave me permission to photograph and interview for this project. Each photo has my own interpretation of the photograph, but I urge you to look at the photo and form your own interpretation before reading mine; I trust you’ll have a greater understanding of yourself by doing so. While my photos are just simply for the Kresge project, I hope you are left with meaningful takeaways.

“Connection and Conflict”, a portrait of Ghost Zavala, a non-binary Indigenous Mexican American.

This photo is a double exposure of a poster of Frida Khalo I purchased for Zavala a couple of weeks back and Zavala. In the photo, I wanted to emphasize Kahlo’s looming presence on Zavala’s wall as an iconic Mexican feminist figure; however, I also wanted to highlight the conflict that Zavala feels as an Indigenous Mexican with thorns surrounding their lips and neck. This conflict comes from Kahlo’s possession of Indigenous servants (informally, enslaved peoples). Additionally, Zavala feels disconnected from their Indigenous identity because the only direct connection they had to that identity was their grandfather, who has already passed. They also don’t know where to start establishing their connection to their identity because they are unsure of what tribe they are specifically related to; they only truly know they are Indigenous because they were told by their family. While this conflict has brought Zavala much struggle, it has also given them the chance to connect with the communities of others who are like them. Though they are “lost about their identity,” Zavala wants those who are in their position to remember “they are not alone”, and that being confused about your identity is part of the journey to discovering yourself.

“Red Said”, a photograph of Wade Hatch, a cisgender queer man.

In this piece, I attempted to emphasize the flowers and red objects present in the room. When asked about his identities and how they’ve developed, he told me about the clash between societal expectation for his appearance as a cisgender man versus the way he expresses himself, which can be considered feminine and/or queer. Hatch expressed that while his self-expression can conflict with how he is expected to be, he’s accepted who he is and views the expectation neutrally; in other words, it has no power over him.

“Blurry Sunflower Fragments of my Being”, a portrait of myself.

For this photo, I was inspired by stained glass art I saw on Instagram. In the context of identity, each piece of “glass” is a piece of a person. I thought about how for stained glass, glass is cut, glazed, and pieced together, similar to how human identities are shaped over time and form a person’s full being. In the photo, I am faceless because my identity has been shaped by the fragments of who I was in the past and I will continue to change shape over time. Unlike stained glass, humans are very flexible. During the creation of this piece, I also thought about how I’ve heard people who find themselves in “the middle” of identities (for example, being half Asian and half French) often feel as though they aren’t enough of either identity. I would argue that you can take a glass fragment from stained glass and pretend it’s your identity as an Asian. While you’ve separated the piece from the picture of your whole being, that fragment alone is still unequivocally you; it is simultaneously a part of you and also wholly you. This concept stands for all of one’s identity, which is something I wanted to communicate through this piece. If I were to remake this piece, I would fragment myself more literally, with pieces of the stained glass separated from my main body in order to communicate my idea more clearly.

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Power and Representation is the core course at Kresge College at the University of California, Santa Cruz — a campus with a history of student-led and participatory educational initiatives. These are the creative interventions of our intrepid entering class of 2021.

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Arnold Ngaophasy Pravong

Arnold Ngaophasy Pravong

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