In 2009, I graduated from Hospitality and Tourism school in Bangkok and started a career in this field. For a decade, I concentrated on immersing myself in the business of fostering travelers’ needs and their experience. The first steps started from the ordinary thinking of serving a customer with great smiles and delivering good services at the front lines, simultaneously climbing the career ladder to higher positions, and consequently gaining broader vision. When looking at these industry’s insights, they emerge as a substantial growth of the trendy, savvy, and profitable leisure business. It is happening in all-landscape-destinations around the globe, specifically the islands. Habitually, mainlanders’ imagination of the Islands will develop a picture of a great holiday destination,

“Certain natural environments have figured prominently in humanity’s dream of the ideal world: they are the forest, the seashore, the valley and the island.”


Meanwhile, a few questions arose in my mind: what would stand up behind those islands and their future? What makes people decide to escape to the islands? What is the foresight of any islander towards the future of their identity and homeland’s insularity? Answers seem to be blurry. Very sudden, I found the term “Island studies” through seeking higher education in Canada. When discovered a year ago, by calling, this word shows itself as an attractive object, yet doubting the existence and depth of those studies. I decided to sail the boat to find the answer and finally came to the Island and study about the islands. These findings in this writing would explain my inspiration for Island Studies as a Contemporary Art: Origins, Expressionism, and Instruments.

Island’s Conceptual Origins

Several dictionary classifications usually tag an island as a piece of land surrounded by water. This definition has been continually told all over the place so much so that that it becomes a usual metaphor in people’s minds. It is also said that islands are small, bounded, or just being relaxed to remember them as “insular” lands. Those features are commonly illustrated by the visual appearance of a circular drawing surrounded by, perhaps, a few more lines representing waves or ocean on a piece of paper,

“Ask anyone to take a sheet of paper and to draw an island as seen from the air. Most likely, that person would draw a stylized image of a piece of land. Without much detail other than being surrounded by water.”

(Baldacchino, 2016)

This original perception inevitably comes from ubiquitous literature such as fiction, poetry, documentaries, and modern media communication, such as movies, photographs, or the globally widespread social media. All of these media mainly promote an island’s image of a tropical paradise with a beautiful coastline of white sand beaches, crystal clear ocean water on lively coral reefs, and a simple-but-fun-and-relaxing community dwelling on it. An island is perfectly ideal for an indulgent holiday or an escape away for a businessman or a casual worker from modern life’s connections:

“a trip to an island is looked upon by many people as a remedy for the madness of life in their “normal” environment: the stress of being submerged by a daily flood of information and commercial, financial and cultural transactions and activities of all sorts.”

(Péron, 2004) 

Naturally, what makes people decide to escape to the islands?

Islands are commonly assumed as being small, bounded, insular, and so on, simply because people prefer to think of things that have their own limits or restrictions. It would certainly help to ease minds, to control and to escape as Baldacchino once stated:

“Perhaps the answer lies in an obsession to control to embrace an island as something finite, that maybe encapsulated by human strategy, design, or desire.”

(Baldacchino, 2016)

Meanwhile, an added stream of the mainlander’s awareness of the Island is a primitive destination where phenomena are not occurring as civilized as their hometowns; thus, they rank the island as an extent of remote excitement,

“To the person from mainland, an island does not quite belong to this world, however, it is known, analyzed, photograph and modernized, to go to an island is still an act of sensual disorientation.”

(PÉRON, 2004)

We can quickly digest these mainlanders’ assumptions by nominal values into three primary expressions: Small, Insular, and Closed. But are they?

Island’s Symbolic Expressionism 

Although audiences worldwide get used to being repeatedly trapped in the outdated image of primitive or small, savage, or close, nonetheless, there exist more significant matters than a little dot on a sheet of paper or from an aircraft’s view to pull out imagination towards islands.

What would stand up behind those islands?

For the islanders, their sensitivities are different. They see their islands are a platform on which they firmly plant their feet (Baldacchino, 2018). For them, the island is the universe, connects to the world of islands by the sea as its routes, and is neither bordered nor enclosed:

“It is a miniature universe, a bauble of community, society, ecology, economy. It imposes a sense of thick, proto-ethnic identity on its inhabitants and a sense of obvious and stark difference to all others.”


 It was only transformed and confined by imperialism in the 19th Century as in the scenario of Oceania’s,

“19th-century imperialism erected boundaries that led to the contractions of Oceania, transforming a once boundless world into the Pacific island states and territories that we know today.”

(Hau’ofa, 1994)

Mandelbrot also said that the limitation of the island, just as the sky or mountains are not the physical boundaries but the universe it holds,

“Clouds are not spere, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles and bark is not smooth.

(Mandelbrot, 1984)

Based on these statements, the island is neither small or closed; it covers more than just a physical boundary based on the distinct point of view and vision of outsiders versus islanders on their roots and routes or identity and movements, but who is in and who is out? Hau’Ofa once asked a question: do people in most of Oceania live in tiny, confined spaces?

 “Their calculations are based entirely on the extent of the land surfaces that they see. Their universe comprised not only land surfaces, but the surrounding ocean as far as they could traverse and exploit it. Their world was anything but tiny. Smallness is a state of mind.

(Hau’ofa, 1994)

Moreover, the water-lands are also hypothesized as the Utopia for people who have life’s difficulties to come for a remedy. When the global civilization reached to every corner of the globe, this idea soon became a heritage, no more. The islands are perhaps insular occasionally, but then, insularity does not need to be a base for judgment as such to simplicity or inferiority,

“Primitive, untouched societies were simple, such simplicity did not correspond to inferiority

(Baldacchino, 2004)

In this context, Islandness sounds to be a more decent and less destructive word to define an island. Frankly saying, it is spiritually enthusiastic and proudly comfortable when I need to think or say this phrase to whomever the audience is. 

Photo by Bestbe Models on

Baldacchino once introduced a principle of Islandness, which is an interface to deal with the outsiders’ world and expressed as its filters, though it needs more in-depth findings to unpack this term,

“It is that condition which acts as the filter, broker, and interface of/for the island with the rest of the world”

(Baldacchino, 2004)

For self-reflection, Islandness is, in fact, all that happens and adds up to the so-called symbolic expressionism of an island, its physical characteristics and unseen dynamic emotions reflect the diverse perspectives and acute angles of every single island as Baldacchino once cited:

“Islandness is an intervening variable that does not determine, but contours and conditions physical and social events in distinct, and distinctly relevant, ways.”

(Baldacchino, 2004)

Subsequently, island studies’ contemporary scholarship arises, refered to as” studying Island on their own terms” (McCall, 1994) with an endorsement of unpacking this philosophy until the present days.

Smallness is a state of mind

(Hau’ofa, 1994)

Island’s Interdisciplinary Instruments

At the start

The field has been in existence since 1988, and it was a ‘watershed’ for island studies (Baldacchino,2015, p.4) with the birth of the International Small Island Studies Association ( ISISA) and later the establishment of Island Studies Journal ( ISJ) in 2003, those groundworks start initially under urgency to develop and nurture an audience for island studies scholarship and a reputable platform for a growing community engrossed by island studies (Baldacchino, 2006, p.10). The result was met in those earlier years that emerge in the studies in the present day. Later, its development gradually expands from international scholars, bringing their creative and varied perspectives on Islands studies’ interdisciplinary conceptualization. It is an inadvertent surprise to know the fantasy of knowledge I am seeking does exist and has been there for decades; thus, there comes a strong sense of discovery, to begin with.

What is the future of Island studies?

 Humankind’s behaviour is continually changing and unpredictable. So are their cultures, economy, ecology, and society; thus, it would not be sufficient to relate to the hypothesis of any existing framework for those “dynamically living creatures” (the island and its archipelagos). Furthermore, there is a crucial need to explore additional variables, for instance: the flow of modern mobility, the impact of hi-end devices and scientific technology, sustainability concept of natural resources versus renewable resources, and a significant add-on must be mentioned is the scenarios of complicated political affairs across landmasses nowadays.

To illustrate the thought, the unforeseen epidemic Covid-19 is a noticeable picture to look at the difference between governments and citizens’ reactions to get a grip on it, from mainland continents of Europe, North America, South America versus Asia to Islands’ jurisdictions of Singapore, Australia, Iceland versus sub-national islands of Prince Edward Island, Hawaii, Java and more to be named. Will Vaccine deliveries become a remedy once and for all or the root causes, in truth, evolved by those factors, as mentioned above?

Ken Atlantic

In closing, studying the island on its own terms and in diverse expertise will trigger the new generation’s interest extensively. It is essential to visualize the Island’s inhabitants’ identity, originals, and characteristics’ expressed by excellent Interdisciplinary Scholarship instruments,

“… a place is what its place-makers – humans or non-humans – do… my argument is that sense of island place, or Islandness, is an outcome of what islanders do, and in particular of how islanders move.”

( Vannini, & Taggart, 2012,p.228)

That will become the ultimate objective and vision of Island Studies as a Contemporary Art in the modern world.


  1. BALDACCHINO, G. (2004). THE COMING OF AGE OF ISLAND STUDIES. Tijdschrift Voor Economische En Sociale Geografie, 95(3), 272-283. https://10.1111/j.1467-9663.2004.00307.x
  2. Baldacchino, G. (2016). Editorial: islands — objects of representation. Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, 87(4), 247-251. https://10.1111/j.0435-3684.2005.00196.x
  3. Baldacchino, G. (2018). The Routledge international handbook of island studies: a world of islands (1st ed.). Routledge.
  4. Chakerian, D., & Mandelbrot, B. B. (1984). The Fractal Geometry of Nature.https://10.2307/2686529
  5. Hauofa, E. (1994). Our sea of islands. The Contemporary Pacific, 6(1), 147-161.,contains,991998063602837&tab=innz&search_scope=INNZ&vid=NLNZ&offset=0
  6. McCall, Grant, South Pacific Studies Resource Centre,Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, UNSW (1994). Nissology: The study of islands.
  7. Patricios, N. N. (2017). Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes and Values by Yi-Fu Tuan (review). Leonardo, 9(4), 333-334.
  8. PÉRON, F. (2004). THE CONTEMPORARY LURE OF THE ISLAND. Tijdschrift Voor Economische En Sociale Geografie, 95(3), 326-339. https://10.1111/j.1467-9663.2004.00311.x
  9. Stambaugh, S. (1996). Sam Selvon. An Island Is a World.
  10. Vannini, P., & Taggart, J. (2013). Doing islandness: a non-representational approach to an island’s sense of place. Cultural Geographies, 20(2), 225.

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