Honolulu: See and Be Seen

Mar 14, 2017

Credit noe tanigawa

Honolulu is having an art moment.  The Honolulu Biennial is raising awareness, new construction is providing opportunities, and established businesses are realizing art’s marketing potential.  Without the benefit of traditional galleries, an alternative infrastructure has been preparing artists for this moment.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa traces how choice pieces, many representing Hawai‘i’s  stories and culture, are appearing around town.

Independent curator, artist, Trisha Lagaso Goldberg with Kamran Samimi's "Currents," 2016. "Currents," based on data and wind maps of the Pacific, is on the barricade wall around the upcoming Ae'o development in Kaka'ako.
Credit noe tanigawa

I met independent curator, artist, Trisha Lagaso Goldberg here in Kaka‘ako, the epicenter of Honolulu’s development boom. 

“Corporations are trying to say, hey, you know, we’re a cool, hip place.  We are committed to Hawai‘I, we are committed to this neighborhood.   I’m saying this with a smile on my face and a little sarcasm there, but I imagine these are the kinds of stories their marketing departments want to communicate, right?”  

We’re standing in front of Kamran Samimi’s 3D wind patterns on the blue wall around Howard Hughes’ ‘Ae’o construction site.  Also featured on the wall, Lenny Kaholo’s photographs of locals and Ara Feducia’s graphics of ‘ae’o, the Hawaiian stilt, that was once plentiful in the area.  This construction wall project was coordinated by the Hoomaikai Foundation, basically Maile Meyer and Na Mea Hawai‘i. 

Maile Meyer, founder of Native Books/Na Mea Hawai'i, is a consultant bridging Hawaiian communities. With others, she has worked to empower local artists, particularly Hawaiian artists, helping them find exhibitions, commissions, work spaces, and funding for materials and presentation through her non-profit, Hoomaikai, LLC.
Credit na mea hawaii

“That’s the good news.  There‘s some momentum building.”

Meyer figured out a decade ago that capacity building and access to markets would be key to a vibrant art community, and she found believers.  

“We just did whatever it took to make sure people got to see it.  So the Sheraton, every day, thousands of people see  Native Hawaiian art thanks to Kelly Sanders saying yes, and Rob Iopa from WCIT and Wayne Goo.  Those guys believed we had enough quality to show.  And we did.  That’s business development for them, they’re not going to make any money on it, but in the end, the hilarious thing is, the Sheraton collection of Native Hawaiian art has probably doubled in value.  So people who want bang for their buck from that standpoint, we ended up being a good investment.”

For years, Meyer and company mounted pop up exhibitions at the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement conventions, hundreds of works up for a couple of days, but they were able to bring people.

“Then Disney basically went down there, saw all those artists and did that project.  The Aulani has every one of them plus another forty.”

Paying artists to decorate construction barricades is a new phenomenon in Honolulu. This wall fronting the Ae'o construction site features relief sculptures by Kamran Samimi, photographs by Lenny Kaholo, and here, graphic depictions of the Hawaiian stilt, the Ae'o, by Ara Feducia.
Credit noe tanigawa

The Disney project was a milestone, but not without controversy.  For many artists, however, shirt rending over selling out is vaporizing as quickly as shyness over self-promotion.  For Meyer, it’s about moving forward. 

“Someone has to give you an opportunity to create other opportunities and in our community, it’s always with community in mind.” 

On Ala Moana Boulevard between Keawe and South Street, on the mauka side, find this pocket lawn with Kālā Ho’s hand carved basalt fish hook. Titled "Manaiakalani," for those who know, this fish hook recalls the story of the demi-god Maui pulling the Hawaiian islands up from the ocean.
Credit noe tanigawa

Community, that’s us.  Our stories-look for them, heading down Ala Moana

Meyer:  “Between Keawe and South Street, if they slow down, they’ll see Manaiaikalani, Maui’s Fishhook.  Made by Kālā Ho, the shaft and the barb are hand carved basalt, it’s a five foot hook pulling out of the ground.  Kālā is a cultural practitioner from Kualoa.”

“Right at the next corner, south and Ala Moana is Kawika Eskaran with the help of Jared Pere.  Those two are from Punalu‘u, they are carvers at the Polynesian Cultural Center.  Kawika Eskaran is a master canoe navigator and carver who made a beautiful lōkahi triad that talks about man, nature and the gods.”

Eskaran:  “The history of Kaka‘ako is quite hurtful, from ancient past to present.  Because of the occurences that were here, and some of the practices, there were luakini, where human sacrifices were performed in a location very close to here…”

Master carver Kawika Eskaran’s sculpture unites themes of peacemaking and wayfinding for those who know.  We’ll hear his story next. 

Also on Keawe Street, Pat Pinei of Mākaha has installed a hula trio at the entrance to A and B’s Collections condo.

Continue on Keawe Street to a rental property, the Flats at Puunui, where you can find a four story glass mural that changes color with the daylight.  The Return of Lono by Solomon Enos is blues and greens during the day and reds and oranges at night.

Keola Rapozo of Fitted contributed this artwork to the new barricade wall at Ke Kilohana in Ward Village. For this project, ten artists each painted their version of the highest peak in the Ko'olaus.
Credit Keola Rapozo

Recently, a new construction wall went up at Ward Villages around Ke Kilohana, “Ward Village’s tower designed with kamaʻāina in-mind.”  Ten local artists contributed their images of Kilohana, the tallest peak in the Koolaus.  The featured artists:  Ran Novack, Cory Kamehanaokala Taum, Meala Bishop,  Kai’ili Kaulukukui, Jason Southard, Janetta Napp, Carl F.K. Pao, Keola Naka’ahiki Rapozo, Solomon Enos and  Nanea Lum.