3 Stunning Kaka’ako Murals and the Stories Behind Them

Artists Kamea Hadar, Jack Soren and Matt and Roxy Ortiz tell us the backstories.

 

Take a stroll down the streets of the Kaka‘ako neighborhood, the art is literally larger than life. At this epicenter of the street art creations, you can take in mural after mural of all color, style, shape and size, plastered over the side of seemingly forgotten buildings and major gathering spots alike.

 

The art has transformed what was once a bland-looking array of blank warehouses and nondescript buildings in humdrum shades into a space of inspiration, edge—and color. It could all be read, really, as a symbolic visual reflection of the less overt personality shift that Kaka‘ako has undergone in the past couple of decades, as well. What was once a forgotten industrial wasteland is now one of the coolest, most happening areas on the island, beloved by artists and creatives, and a gathering space for Honolulu’s newest generation of hipsters.

 

Walking these streets is like walking through an outdoor gallery featuring some of the city’s best-known artists—and here are some of our favorite pieces:

 

Naupaka by Kamea Hadar

 

 

With his 2016 mural commissioned by Kamehameha Schools at SALT at Our Kaka‘ako, Hawai‘i artist Kamea Hadar (@kameahadar) tells the Hawaiian legend of naupaka, a half-flower with missing petals found in the mountains or by the water.

 

“It’s a legend that explains the two types of naupaka. One type is found only by the mountains, the mauka region, and one type is only found by the ocean, the beach, the makai region of the island. Each bloom of the flower is a half blossom. Each blossom represents lost lovers that when put together create a whole. There are different stories, of Pele being jealous of their love and chasing them and wanting to destroy them, and other stories of Naupaka being a princess and him being a commoner, a fisherman, and them having forbidden love. Some versions of the story said that Kaui ran to the ocean because he was a fisherman, and Naupaka ran up to the mountains. So I tried to be as respectful as I could and do as much research as I could, and at the end of the day, I’m very happy with how it came out.”—Kamea Hadar

 

Blue Hawai‘i by Jack Soren

 

Elvis

Photo: Natalie Schack

 

This reimagination of the Elvis in Hawai‘i aesthetic by Jack Soren (@jacksoren) never fails to delight with its stylish-meets-uncanny caricaturizations of island icons.

 

“I painted the Blue Hawai‘i mural in 2020 for Pow!Wow! Hawai‘i. It’s on the back wall of Ward movie theater. I recently had watched the movie again and was excited about about his homage to Hawai‘i. The album features one of my favorite versions of “Aloha ‘Oe.” I wanted to bring that nostalgia back and paint something that I feel was a golden era of a vintage Hawai‘i.”—Jack Soren

 

The Mix Tape by Wooden Wave

 

Woodenwave

Photo: Natalie Schack

 

This whimsical piece by Hawai‘i artists Matt and Roxy Ortiz (@woodenwave), a husband and wife duo, dreams up the most charming, unusual little structures and spaces.

 

“We were inspired by our childhood of growing up in the ’80s and ’90s. Hip-hop music and synth sounds, neon, arcade video games, etc. We like to play with details, so the deck of this building is designed to be where the tape deck is on a boombox. The drink counter reads, ‘The Mix Tape,’ where (similar to how everyone had their preference in a music playlist), you can order your preferred ‘mix,’ whether that’s a green smoothie, a blended margarita or a coffee frappé. As with all our treehouses, it comes equipped with the necessities like green roofs to grow food, solar panels for energy, and water-catchment barrels.”—Matt and Roxy Ortiz