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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Politics of Invisibility: Visualizing Legacies of Nuclear Imperialisms

  • Author(s): Amundsen, Fiona;
  • Frain, Sylvia C.
  • et al.

Questions of visibility, witnessing, and agency are particularly pertinent to post-1945 US and French nuclear testing across Oceania. Images of enormous hovering atomic mushroom clouds have become familiar icons of this testing, while images of the effects of colonial–imperial occupation and ideology in the Pacific are rendered invisible within government-controlled imagery. Alternative forms of visualization are required to be able to (re)see the human experiences that remain central to contemporary Pacific militarization and the legacies of nuclear weapons testing. Images, be they from social media and online platforms, archives, or public exhibitions, have the political potential to make visible Indigenous experiences of nuclear testing and ongoing militarization. Here, our work expands the concept of transnational studies by centering Oceanic, archipelagic, and island thinking. This article explores how contemporary photographic imagery politicizes what has been rendered (in)visible through state-produced imagery, archiving practices, and US national park recognition.  Focusing on American-born Chinese visual artist Jane Chang Mi’s series (See Reverse Side.) (2017) and Marshallese photojournalist and filmmaker Leonard Leon’s (@pacific_aesthetics) series of Instagram posts (2019), we argue that their methods of image-making can enable alternative forms of socioethical witnessing and visibility of not only state-produced archival images but also of the Indigenous Pacific communities who are deeply affected by nuclear testing and ongoing militarization. Through close readings of their works, we question how photographic practices communicate the humanity of nuclear military conduct while bringing their viewers closer to the human experience of living in a highly militarized and nuclear context.

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