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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.