auckland

Luke Willis Thompson, Sucu Mate/Born Dead, 2016, concrete headstones. Installation view. Photo: Alex North.

Luke Willis Thompson

Hopkinson Mossman

Luke Willis Thompson, Sucu Mate/Born Dead, 2016, concrete headstones. Installation view. Photo: Alex North.

The colonial period in the South Pacific may notionally be over, but its legacies are ever present, particularly in the way island nations struggle to survive in the global economy. Market forces well beyond the people’s control shape the economic life of the islands—whether that means growing niche commodities like vanilla in Tonga or allowing ecologically destructive mining in Papua New Guinea. Luke Willis Thompson’s Sucu Mate/Born Dead, 2016, offered a complicated picture of these intersections of colonialism, labor, death, and global trade. And it does so with a minimal gesture: a single line of nine anonymous and age-worn gravestones, taken from a colonial-era cemetery in Lautoka, Fiji, where indentured laborers from a nearby sugar plantation—many of them Chinese—had been buried.

The stones’ potency as narrative objects is determined by whether viewers know they

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