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Visual stories by contemporary Native Hawaiian artists.

October 22, 2009
Paul Janes-Brown

The show is the brainchild of Hokulani Holt, director of cultural programming at the MACC, and Maile Andrade, artist and assistant professor of art at the University of Hawai‘i. Their idea has been brilliantly realized by Gallery Director Neida Bangerter and her general factotum, Ditmar Hoerl. The invitational exhibit is instructive, inspirational, and to paraphrase one well-known artist’s statement at the opening, it elevates Hawaiian contemporary art.

Apparently, the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts agrees, as they have recommended the purchase of six works from the show. However, it would be unwise for the artists to think of this gesture as money in the bank given the current unfortunate state of Hawai‘i’s economy. It is an honor nonetheless, even if it may not swell these artists’ bank accounts.

Dr. Puakea Nogelmeier’s translation of the myth of Hi‘iaka was published in the Hawaiian language newspaper Ka Na‘i Aupuni between 1905–1906. And while it’s certainly educational and interesting to delve into its 500-plus pages and 375 chants, it’s not necessary to enjoy these works of visual art. Although the myth serves as the artists’ inspiration, and exposure to the literature will deepen one’s understanding of the work, the pieces stand on their own as pure art as well.

Article Photos

Maui artist Hoaka Delos Reyes’ image of Kilioeikapua greets visitors to a new show at the Schaefer International Gallery.

The depth and variety of this show is stunning. One of the other truly interesting aspects of this show is the use of recycled material in high art. Among the 34 pieces, the media ranges from recycled, white plastic sheets used in MRIs and na‘au pua‘a (pig viscera) to plastic utensils. Of course, there are also the usual media of artists: acrylics, clay and wood.

So many artists were recyclers. Most notably, Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder were notorious collectors and transformers. In this show, three of the artists utilize recycled materials to exceptional effect. At Your Disposal by Maika‘i Tubbs looks like a flock of crystal butterflies parading up the wall, but this brilliant artist has used clear plastic picnic tableware for his butterflies to illustrate the demigod Mahiki’s displeasure with Hi‘iaka and her friends.

In the myth, Hi‘iaka turns her skirt into a surfboard for her sister’s love, Lohi‘au. Mark Chai has taken this part of the myth for his aqua green surfboard made of recycled green plastic and reclaimed wood. Note the way Chai attaches the sheets of plastic together utilizing the fiddlehead shape.

For his reuse of na‘au pua‘a, I suppose one could consider Marques Hanalei Marzan among the recyclers as well. As he tells us: “Na‘au, the core of one’s being, is physically, spiritually and visually a manifestation of all the generations that have come before. It is a living link to our past, a home to our emotions, a source from which all understanding germinates.”

His use of the material in his three pieces demonstrates what the vision of an artist can accomplish, and reinforces why we must fight, with all of our being, to ensure that the powers that be understand the importance of art in education and its role in making all of humankind more than the animals we are.

Tubbs, Chai and Carl Pao have all selected the wind and cloud portion of the mo‘olelo of Hi‘iakaikapoliopele. Both Chai and Tubbs have chosen the same quotes as their inspiration. They even utilized plastic for both expressions. However, that is where the similarities end.

Tubbs weaves plastic bags on stands to show his clouds; Chai has taken the same theme, but his piece, the largest and most imposing in the show, uses discarded MRI plastic to craft a vortex of clouds plummeting toward Earth in a tornado-like funnel.

Pao’s painting of the clouds Huaka‘i tells us about a trip or procession. Both he and Tubbs portray a kind of cloud cavalcade that moves from serene and white to angry blue, black and red.

When we think of carborundum, art isn’t the first thing which comes to mind, but Maui artist Abigail Romanchak was inspired by Hi‘iaka’s story and has utilized the sandpaper material to sparkling effect in all three of her works.

The other Maui artist in the show is Hoaka Delos Reyes, whose three pohaku—ano niho mo‘o wahine Kilioeikapua, Kalanamainu‘u and Hi‘iakaikapoliopele—greet the visitor with grace, elegance, fearsome rage and quiet certainty.

Solomon Enos, Puni Kukahiko, Pulan Lincoln Maielua, Matthew Kawika Ortiz and Mikioi Wichman are also featured artists.



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