On a recent visit to Hawaii, photographer Lawrence Sumulong decided to look for “the cracks in the facade” of Maui’s picture-perfect image. According to Maui County’s government, about 80% of every dollar on Maui and neighboring islands Molokai and Lanai is generated by the tourism industry. In his series Lacuna, Sumulong presents a different view of Maui, a perspective that looks beyond the tourist experience.
Sumulong focused on overlooked historic sites, “looking for scenes and moments that represent the social realities and tensions that show how the island is exploited.” Back in New York City, where he lives and works, Sumulong had his photos printed as edible frosting layers intended for use on cakes, and transferred these prints onto watercolor paper with a brush. The result is a series of blurred, cracked, and sugary images that offer an abstracted view of the island.
“As a Filipino born and raised in the mainland, I imagined Hawaii as a staging ground for how racial difference is appraised, preserved, fetishized, consumed, commodified in this country,” says Sumulong. “During my stay on the island, I constantly felt torn between feeling that it was okay to be a tourist on vacation as well as taking an active look into the history of the state and island,” he adds. Reading up on Maui, he learned of how the sugar planation industry on the island had historically exploited the labor of uneducated Filipino immigrants. “This coincided with the reality that I was often the only minority in many cases during my stay, and that the only minorities that I did see were Filipino laborers cleaning the timeshare that I was vacationing at, or working on the lawns of other properties.”
“The final layer was the fact that Maui is a stock honeymoon destination, which called to mind oversaturated sunsets and wedding cakes. It was from there that it made sense to print on something edible and from sugar since so much of this experience was about how we consume as well as making a gesture to the resource—sugar—that my people helped to cultivate.”