Vol. 1 – Backside

Backside, 2014—ongoing

“Backside,” examines the history of misunderstanding surrounding those afflicted with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) who were banished to the Kalaupapa peninsula on the north shore of Molokaʻi, Hawaii. Even though Hansen’s disease is not transmitted by casual contact and most people are naturally immune, for centuries people with this chronic infection have endured intense social stigma and ostracism. From 1866 to 1969, decades after treatment was available, the afflicted were exiled to the isolated Kalaupapa peninsula. Comprised of still, moving and archival images, this project investigates the transition of the settlement from prison to hospital to National Historic Park and Museum. In the collision of tropical landscapes—beautiful and mundane, spectacular and everyday—with their desolate histories, viewers encounter a neglected part of the American story.

The Kalaupapa peninsula is surrounded by harsh seas and the pali; some of the highest sea cliffs in the world that plunge 2,000 feet down into the Pacific Ocean, separating it from the rest of the island and forming a natural prison. At its peak over 1,200 afflicted were imprisoned to Kalaupapa and currently over 8,000 graves permeate the once inhospitable land. Today there are only fourteen patients that remain on the Hawaiian Islands with eight that continue to live in the settlement. Created during the final years of the last remaining patients, viewers come to question this overlooked part of our history.

This work would not be possible without the assistance and guidance of many giving individuals. Mahalo nui to Fe and Bernard Schwind, TyLor Tanaka, Eric Brown, Sylvester J. Lee, T. Scott Williams and Julie Sigler for making and facilitating connections to Kalaupapa and for being my guides while on the peninsula. Many thanks to the Kalaupapa National Historical Park and State of Hawaii employees for allowing me access to their facilities and daily lives.

All images © 2014-2018 Shannon Benine

Trail to Kalaupapa / 2014

Trail to Kalaupapa / Ho’olehua / 2014

Tour Bus / 2014

Tour Bus / Kalaupapa / 2014

Kurt Delacruz / 2016

Kurt / Kauhakō Crater / 2016

Old Woman’s Cave (Entrance) / 2015

Old Woman’s Cave (Entrance) / Kalawao / 2015

Drop Site / Kalawao / 2016

The Pali / 2016

The Pali / 2016

JNO. W. NAKUINA / Kauhakō Crater / 2014

Jesus / 2016

Jesus / 2016

Foot Molds / 2016

Former Patient’s Foot Molds / 2016

Fisherman’s House / 2016

Brennan / 2015

Belt of Venus / 2016

Ancient Hawaiian Grave / 2014

Former Store / 2014

Former Store / 2014

Lansen Kaupu / 2016

Lansen / Slaughter House / 2016

Ku-ilio-loa (Dog-Man) / 2016

Ku-ilio-loa (Dog-Man) / 2016


Summer Room / 2016

Old Woman’s Cave / 2014

Old Woman’s Cave / Kalawao / 2014

Full Moon with Pali / 2014

Lighthouse / 2015

Kim Smith / 2015

Kalaupapa, 2014-ongoing Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio June 27 – September 28, 2014 3, 32 x 40 inches, archival inkjet prints

Kalaupapa / 2014-ongoing
Columbus Museum of Art / Columbus / Ohio
June 27 – September 28 / 2014
3 / 32 x 40 inches / archival inkjet prints

Shannon Benine