Native Hawaiian art in focus
By Lynn Cook
Special to The Advertiser
The Louis Pohl Gallery is ringed with finely crafted sculptures of copper, bone, koa wood and coconut.
As visitors to the Downtown gallery take in the artwork, artist Imaikalani Kalahele tilts back in his chair and comments, "I might as well throw myself on the wall. We are the tip of the spear."
The "tip of the spear" Kalahele is talking about is the title of the Louis Pohl Gallery exhibit for the 4th annual Maoli Arts Month. It is also his take on the Native Hawaiian artists and how they lead in all the arts.
Dozens of native artists are involved in the monthlong event that includes much-anticipated exhibitions in various Chinatown galleries, awards events honoring master artists, Native Hawaiian Arts Market and Keiki Art Day at Bishop Museum and the MAMo Wearable Art Showcase set for May 30 at the Sheraton Waikiki hotel.
MAMo also creates a forum for comment and controversy. Glad that there are opportunities to show the creativity and expertise of Hawaiian artists, Bishop Museum project manager Noelle Kahanu says emphatically, "This shouldn't be just a month, you know. We should be able to see galleries filled with work by Hawaiian artists every day, all year." Kahanu has gathered the work of 18 master artists for the Bishop Museum exhibition, including the work of the 2009 honorees, weaver "Gussie" Bento and carver Alapa'i Hanapi. "My challenge for this exhibit was to avoid political conflict," Kahanu explained. "We had to consider which 'aumakua (family guides) get along together. You can't just hang a mo'o (lizard) next to Hi'iaka (Pele's sister), you know."
The ARTS at Marks Garage exhibit tackles the concept of huna, understood but unseen. On opening night, painter Meleanna Meyer stood close to her contemporary sculpture, a clear plastic box, half sand-filled with hidden kukui nuts and half filled with rows of bottled glitter. "You can't bottle it and put it up for sale," Meyer said of huna, "and you can't count us all when you only see the top layer," pointing to the kukui nuts. "I want people to think about the deep mana'o, the meaning, of what huna is and what native art is. Like the kukui covered in sand, no matter if you can see us or not, we are there."
Meyer called attention to Kunane Wooton, who she says is the poster child for maoli arts. But Wooton's "Nau A Wali" wood and teeth sculpture drew a crowd on its own.
"I wanted to reach into the past with a mo'olelo, a story, that would look at the hidden component of our ancestral DNA," he said. "My message is take the knowledge and chew on it." Asked if he carves full time, Wooton answered that he is in nursing school, president of the student nurses group at Kapi'olani Community College and a part-time exhibit designer at Bishop Museum.
In the center of the ARTS at Marks Garage gallery, suspended on sennit cord, the woven artistry of Marquez Marzan's "Anchor'ed" pieces stop people mid-sentence. He stood quietly smiling on opening night as a crowd gathered outside, pressing their noses to the window, like kids outside a candy store. "Hele mai, come in" motioned all the aunties already inside admiring the young man and his work. They commented to anyone who would listen that Marzan had taken the art of lauhala far beyond the traditional mats and hats.
Kumu hula Vicky Holt Takamine, founding mother of the PA'I Foundation that presents MAMo, is excited about Marzan's creations, noting that his work pulls at the na'au, at the core of emotion. "After his 'wow' wearable art last year, we are all waiting to see what adornments he will present this year," she said. As Takamine describes it, the Sheraton Waikiki event at the end of the month will feature models dressed in flowers and feathers, a combination of wearable creations and "wild things." Her hula brother Robert Cazimero is directing the show dedicated to the late featherwork master Auntie Mary Lou Kekuewa. "When I asked Marquez how his woven jewelry would look best, on a black dress or bare skin, he said both," Takamine says with a knowing grin, adding, "Tickets are still available, but moving fast."
The Pohl Gallery show includes the abstract work of Charlie Dixon, watermarked acrylic kapa paintings by Maile Andrade, intricate layered paintings by Harinane Orme, and the stone and wood sculptures of Hanalei Hopfe and Bob Freitas.
Freitas, one of the founders of Maoli Arts Month, is pleased with the results. "This represents years of energy and effort put into exhibits that demonstrate the quality of cultural artistry. This is a showcase for established and emerging native artists." Orme, illustrator of the new best-seller, "Pulelehua and Mamaki" from Ka-mahoi Press, offers her signature shy smile and says how delighted she is to share her new work. "I have taken to painting on hard surfaces, then layering the pieces. The paintings are like the stories appliqued in a Hawaiian quilt," adding "that's really what all our art is, layers of understanding."
And Kalahele, who spent eight days living in the bush on the Big Island as a retreat, is exhibiting a dramatic 10-foot high, raw canvas panel depicting a Pele legend. As he guides guests to his work, he tells them, "I am into permanent ink markers. Marks-A-Lot kind."