The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Unoccupied Territory


6254 Palmyra Atoll, one of the minor outlying island territories of the USA, was transformed during World War II, and is now being reclaimed as a wildlife preserve. Google Earth image

THE UNOCCUPIED ISLAND TERRITORIES OF the USA are, for the most part, uninhabited, off-limits to visitation, and located in the Pacific, thousands of miles from the continental coast of the USA—about as remote as you can get. Yet, despite this, each of these islands is one of the 14 official territories of the USA, and each one has something to say about the nation they are apart from, and a part of.
These islands were the subject of a 2020 exhibit at the CLUI, called Unoccupied Territories: The Outlying Islands of America’s Realm. The exhibit was installed on schedule at CLUI Los Angeles in April, weeks after our space was closed due to the global pandemic, and though the exhibit was up for six months, nobody saw it (in person, at least). This unfortunate circumstance, however, became an asset conceptually, by enhancing themes of isolation, inaccessibility, and remoteness.
The exhibit itself was created by remote means, without the CLUI visiting any of the locations, which is unusual for us. The islands and atolls were presented as satellite images, of varying and relative size, framed and floating in a sea of continuous blue space.
Over the course of empire, most of these remote atolls and islets have been utterly transformed, by resource extraction and global wars. Now they are remnants of our history, where human visitation is restricted or banned outright, as they are being allowed to be reclaimed by wildlife, and to evolve in their own way. Their future is driven less by the national interests that transformed them, and more by the collective needs of the planet. 

CLUI photo

CLUI photo
“Opening reception” of the exhibit Unoccupied Territories: The Outlying Islands of America’s Realm at CLUI Los Angeles, which was closed to the public due to social distancing during the pandemic, but was viewable on the CLUI website. CLUI photo