Photographs of the Marshallese diaspora are now available in special collections

Laurent Sumulong

Image from the Lawrence Sumulong Photographs of the Marshallese Diaspora in Springdale, Arkansas collection (MC 2557).

A collection of photographs of the Marshallese diaspora in Springdale, Arkansas, by documentary photographer Lawrence Sumulong is now available to researchers at the University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. Northwest Arkansas represents the largest population of Marshallese in the continental United States.

The Lawrence Sumulong Photographs of the Marshallese Diaspora in Springdale, Arkansas collection provides insight into the daily life of Springdale’s Marshallese-Bikinian community – the latter being a community that was forced to migrate following nuclear weapons testing in the United States in Bikini Atoll.

“As part of a land-grant institution, our mission at Special Collections is to preserve and provide access to records documenting all communities and aspects of life in Arkansas,” said Melanie Griffin, Associate Dean Acting for Special Collections. “These prints, which Collections Management and Processing Unit Manager Katrina Windon has been working to acquire over the past two years with former Associate Dean Lori Birrell, document stories that are yet to be told. in the Special Collections fonds Ms. Windon also led extensive coordination efforts with the Marshallese community and engaged the services of a community leader, Sosylina K. Maddison, to translate the finding aid into Marshallese. work is expected to be completed later this year, making the materials more accessible to the community that the collection documents. It is an honor for us to manage this collection of photographic prints and to provide important access to research and education to materials documenting a community that was previously not represented in our holdings.”

Sumulong is a Filipino American photographer and member of Indigenous Photograph, currently based in Brooklyn, New York.

Commercially, he has photographed for institutions such as Carnegie Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Sony Music Masterworks.

His personal projects include documenting emerging Asian and Pacific Islander communities in the United States, as well as Philippine-focused projects such as Burying the Lead (2015), which focused on Typhoon Haiyan refugees living with the family members incarcerated in Leyte province. Jail; Trapo (2016), a series of Polaroid emulsions of Filipino political posters; and an absurd retrospective on the city of Manila titled Dead to Rights (2019). His work has been featured in publications such as The Washington Post, The Guardian and The New York Times.

Initially exhibited by curator Patrick Flores at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum, his Urban Legend series (2012) was also selected by curator Clara Kim (Tate Modern, MOCA) for the Gwangju Biennale in 2018.

The photographs were created in 2016 and 2017 and printed in 2021 with archival pigments on banana fiber paper, a way to connect Sumulong’s Filipino heritage with a culture also endemic to the Marshall Islands. The prints were made from digital negatives by LTI / Lightside Photographic Services in Manhattan, New York, and all are signed first editions.

Funding for this first print edition came from the Honors College; the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Division; and several library funds for the acquisition of collections.

The documents in the collection are available for educational and research purposes. Use of the collection for purposes other than teaching or research is prohibited without the prior written permission of the artist. The artist retains copyright to all materials in the collection.

Special Collections strives to represent a diversity of voices and experiences through its collections. This collection is a way to honor and help preserve the culture and traditions of the Marshallese community in northwest Arkansas.

A note from the photographer:

“I am deeply grateful to the Marshallese-Bikinian community of Springdale, Arkansas, and the University of Arkansas for allowing me to document and later preserve a certain moment in time that is locally significant, state and national.

“The impulse of my work is to remember and express a connection. The understanding is that these photographs will eventually survive us, but I hope they don’t just show a detached observer chronicling.

“The idiosyncrasies of the article make a documentary story and photojournalistic images personal and specific. I am not from the community or the place, but I have been invited to engage and learn during a window of time These photographs represent this intersection and opening, so to speak.

“Finally, the oral history and context attached to a number of the photographs convey aspects of American life and heritage that need to be rectified and continually reconciled. I believe the meaning of this series lies squarely in the community that she portrays.”

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