Picturing Island Bodies Under US Imperialism

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Since the end of World War II, the US has maintained the naval occupation of Okinawa,a small island off the coast of Japan. Across the globe in Puerto Rico the US operated what was at one point the largest naval station in the world during World War II and through the Cold War until ceasing operations in 2001. Islanders in Vieques, Puerto Rico face alarming cancer rates, speculated as due to pollution from offshore explosives. Women of Okinawa experience recurrent acts of sexual violence at the hands of US servicemen. In both archipelagos, public protests against US occupation have disputed land ownership and environmental damages. Taking a transnational approach to the survival of US imperial violence, this paper examines how contemporary video artists, Okinawan Chikako Yamashiro, Puerto Rico-based duo Allora & Calzadilla, and Puerto Rican Beatriz Santiago Muñoz picture island bodies both human and geographic. In Seaweed Woman (2008) by Yamashiro, Under Discussion (2005) by Allora & Calzadilla, and Post-Military Cinema (2014) by Santiago Muñoz, liminality, as a space between life and death—a condition particular to colonized bodies, is pictured as an aesthetic and durational refusal of death and destruction to the island body. The condition of liminality is portrayed through visual and sonic engagements of hyperrealism, that is the confusion between the artists’ reproduced images/sounds with the real experiences of island bodies. In Post-Military Cinema, liminality is used by the artist to produce a repossession of the island body, and in all artworks, to picture resistance. Broadly, this comparative study challenges notions of “American Art” and reflects on how US imperial ideology enacts violence, but via the creation of binary oppositions creates liminal spaces from which the island body resists and survives.