Gallery allowed to show portrait
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Artist Kim Taylor Reece lost a round yesterday in his fight to prevent a Kailua art gallery from displaying a stained-glass work by another artist Reece claims made an illegal copy of one of his photos.
U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright denied a request by Reece for a preliminary injunction against Island Treasures Art Gallery. The larger case brought by Reece remains alive.
At issue are two pieces of art — both involving a woman dressed in kahiko hula attire and wearing a maile lei, in a sitting position on the sand. In both, the dancer is performing an "ike" move, with one arm outstretched and the other bent at the elbow with the hand near the face.
The black-and-white photo titled "Makanani" was taken and published by Reece in 1988. The stained-glass portrait titled "Nohe" was done by artist Marylee Leialoha Colucci in 1998. Colucci said she was inspired by a photo of her niece doing the move, as well as people she has danced with and others, but not Reece's photo.
An injunction would have forced the gallery to take down the stained-glass work pending the outcome of the case. After Seabright's decision, Colucci and her supporters stood proudly around the piece, which hangs over one of the two front doors of the gallery.
Kumu hula Vicky Holt Takamine and Mapuana de Silva, who taught hula to Colucci, said the case is at the heart of a larger debate involving the issue of Native Hawaiian trademark infringement. They claim that Reece and other artists wrongfully want to trademark pieces of the Hawaiian culture. Reece denies trying to trademark the hula and said he is looking out for himself and other artists who are victims of copyright infringement.
The ike motion, Takamine said, is standard for hula dancers.
Attorney Camille Kalama of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which is representing Island Treasures and owner Gail Allen, said Seabright makes it clear in his order rejecting the injunction that he does not believe Reece has a good case.
"Based on all of the elements of the case, the court doesn't believe that the plaintiff has made his case and is unlikely to win based on the merits," Kalama said.
Seabright said, "The plaintiff is not entitled to a preliminary injunction because he has not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits or the possibility of irreparable harm."
Colucci said Reece has a right to copyright his photograph, but cannot copyright the hula move. "It is our right to make our art what we want, and mine is hula girls," she said.
Gallery owner Allen said Reece's action has discouraged others from creating images involving hula dancers and that one artist has even pulled his hula images from her gallery since the lawsuit became public.
Reece said he is seeking to protect not just his own work, but that of all artists.
Reece said he has no doubt that Colucci copied his work and is confident a jury will see it the same way.
"A third-grader can see that they traced this thing," Reece said.
He added: "This is equivalent to me singing a Cazimero song and saying this is mine because I sang it, and I own it."
No trial date has been set.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at email@example.com.