This book chapter on the visual culture of leprosy (Hansen’s disease) focuses on the production, circulation, and meanings of what I call an archive of skin. The Hawai‘i Board of Health removed approximately eight thousand men, women, and children suspected of having leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease) to detention stations and a remote settlement between 1866 and 1969. The majority were Native Hawaiians, with a smaller number of Portuguese and Asian immigrants and their descendants exiled. As people with leprosy were photographed for clinical and administrative archives, Hawai’i became a worldwide model for carceral medicine. What might this vast visual culture reveal about the obsessive colonial archiving of raced-sexed bodies and people with disabilities?
At the same time, an archive of kin or a counter-archive of kinship allows us to see and apprehend non-biological interdependence and life-making emerging from sites of lifelong detention and exile. This chapter further aims to outline the ethical choices of this project: holding to an “ethics of restraint” while representing disability, illness, and bodily distress.
Adria L. Imada is associate professor in the Department of History at the University of California, Irvine. She also teaches in the inter-school medical humanities program between the Schools of Humanities, Medicine, and Arts at UCI. She has broad research and teaching interests in indigeneity, race, gender, sexuality, disability, visual culture, and performance. Her book Aloha America: Hula Circuits through the U.S. Empire (Duke University Press, 2012) received the Lawrence W. Levine Prize for best cultural history from the Organization of American Historians and best first book in women’s history from the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. With the support of a National Institutes of Health/National Library of Medicine biomedicine grant, she is writing a second book on the visual culture of leprosy (Hansen’s disease) and kinship.