On view now at the Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawai’i through October 24, 2021
(Re)Generations: Challenging Scientific Racism in Hawaiʻi explores a collection of photographs and plaster busts created by anthropologist Louis R. Sullivan as a tool to measure and classify the physical traits of a supposedly “pure” Native Hawaiian race. The collection was presented at the Second International Eugenics Conference (1921) with the Bishop Museum’s endorsement and support. Measuring, classifying, and categorizing people through “race science” has been used to justify slavery, displacement, colonial occupation, eugenics, and genocide. There is no biological truth to race, and research like Sullivan’s is now long discredited. Yet the myths of race and racial superiority, and the structural inequalities they support, have lasting and traumatic effects.
Though Sullivan’s photographs and busts are tied to a legacy of scientific racism, the collection has become one of the Bishop Museum’s primary sources for genealogical research in Hawaiʻi. (Re)Generations aims to celebrate the ways this collection has been reappropriated by Native Hawaiian descendants as a vehicle for (re)discovering ancestors, genealogical connections, and family. Photographs of persons celebrated in the exhibit were selected through collaboration with their living descendants. Photographs and busts are recontextualized outside of Sullivan’s eugenics research through meaningful histories, including the additions of descendant interviews and family heirlooms, which offer a glimpse into these people’s lives and legacies.
The Bishop Museum’s hope is that this exhibit is not an end in itself, but rather aims to start conversations on how the Museum can better connect with and serve Native Hawaiian communities and stakeholders.
For more information on how to see the exhibit, including relevant COVID-19 policies, please visit the Bishop Museum’s website.