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Shannon Benine: “If you can read the ocean you will never be lost”

December 1, 2021 @ 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm

|Recurring Event (See all)

One event on December 1, 2021 at 5:00 pm

The Irene Carlson Gallery of Photography is pleased to announce the exhibition “If you can read the ocean you will never be lost” by artist Shannon Benine.

About the Artist

Shannon Benine is a North American artist, curator and educator known for her dedication to advancing the discourse on expanded documentary photography, interdisciplinary approaches to art and community engagement. Benine constantly asks the question, what mechanisms are there to support marginalized communities from the decisions of hegemonic systems of power? Her work examines the aesthetics, politics and ethics of past and present documentary techniques while it engages the viewer in a discussion and debate about the United States’ politically charged history of human rights. Drawing from years of intensive artistic research, Benine combines photography, video, sound, text and archival materials to create multimedia installations that reimagine existing methodologies within the broad scope of documentary practices.

Benine’s work has been held in several collections including the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the National Centre of Contemporary Art in Moscow, Russia and the Kalaupapa National Historic Museum in Hawai’i. She has received grant support from multiple institutions including the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Midwest Society for Photographic Education and the Greater Columbus Arts Council. Her work has been exhibited at the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ohio; the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago, Illinois; the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, Massachusetts and the Photographic Center Northwest in Seattle, Washington.

About the Exhibition

Benine’s ongoing expanded documentary project, “If you can read the ocean you will never be lost,” examines the history of misunderstanding surrounding those afflicted with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) who were banished to the remote Kalaupapa peninsula from 1866-1969 on the north shore of Molokai, Hawai’i. Hansen’s disease was known as Mai Ho’oka’awale “the separating sickness” in Hawaiian. This focus on the social ramifications, as opposed to the physical ailments, emphasizes the importance of community within Hawaiian culture. Even though Hansen’s disease is not transmitted by casual contact and most people are naturally immune, people with this chronic infection have endured intense social stigma and ostracism for centuries. Created during the final years of the settlement’s few remaining patients, this project takes into consideration the modern sufferer, giving a much more personal and human context to this complex illness.

What the future holds for this historic land remains unknown and the COVID-19 pandemic has only further complicated access to the remote peninsula. The once bustling settlement only hosts 80 to 100 people during the week, with half as many during the weekends. Due to the patients being a high-risk population to COVID-19, the two main employers at the settlement, the Kalaupapa National Historical Park and the Hawai’i Department of Health, have reduced their workforce by half and closed the settlement to tours and visitors. With only half of the patients currently living at Kalaupapa due to the pandemic, those who have already endured decades of isolation and separation are now experiencing disconnection and confinement on a level that is reminiscent of their quarantine conditions over 50 years ago. While these drastic measures have proven successful in preventing COVID-19 from reaching the settlement, the lack of time with families and friends has taken its toll. The enduring spirit of Kalaupapa represents the best and worst of our responses to the challenges caused by infectious diseases. This project examines and questions the historical narratives, social stigma and political myopia in relation to those ailing from Hansen’s disease and the island’s long colonial history.

This work-in-progress will culminate with the combination of still and moving images of the island intermixed with photographs and videos created by recent and current inhabitants of the settlement interweaves Benine’s perspective as a white granddaughter of settlers with those who live and work at Kalaupapa. Creating a more nuanced and inclusive photographic lens, this collaborative work intends to serve as a correction to previous paternalistic or colonialist accounts.