Arts: Illuminate—The Moon Show

An exhibit shines light on Island contemporary art.

“I Won’t Dance for the Moon Anymore,” mixed media, by May Izumi, 2006. photo: courtesy of May Izumi

Someone said to me recently, “It’s hard to be an artist in Hawai‘i if you don’t paint whales.” Or Hawaiian landscapes. Or tropical flowers. If it’s not Hawai‘i-themed and living-room-ready, it’s a tough sell.

That doesn’t mean that serious contemporary art isn’t being made. “There are a lot of people here doing art, and a lot of them are very talented, but nobody ever hears about it,” says working artist May Izumi, best known for her animal pieces inspired by folk and fairy tales.

Izumi’s shocking and serene work is hard to forget. “People call them Frankenstein animals or zombie animals,” laughs Izumi, “but I think of them as survivors. That’s what all the stitched-up stuff symbolizes for me. You know how most of the time we go through life, and everybody has their bad times, and you just try to get through them? Most of the time everything is on the inside. [But these animals] are wearing all their hardship on the outside. They look kind of bright-eyed and cheerful, though—they’re just happy they’re still here, is how I think of them.”

Art like this—pieces whose beauty unfolds over time—requires a special kind of collector. “It takes a unique type of individual to go for something that’s much more, say, intellectually challenging, something that [if you buy it] will challenge anybody who comes into your home, as well,” says artist and educator Lori Uyehara.

To create a showcase for some of Hawai‘i’s most thought-provoking contemporary artists, Uyehara, Izumi, and others have come together for “Illuminate: The Moon Show,” at the Academy Art Center at Linekona (across from the Honolulu Academy of Arts) from May 9 through May 31.

The ancient, universal symbol at the heart of this group show makes for an intriguing variety of ideas and methods. There will be large-scale installations from Cade Roster and others, alongside art so small, it’s wearable. “We particularly wanted to bring in the jewelers,” says Uyehara. “There are a lot of jewelers here who are working in a contemporary mode, but [due to security concerns] you never see their work.”

Jewelers in the exhibition include designer Donna Shimazu and award-winning silversmith Gordon Uyehara. Rounding out the show will be moon-inspired pieces in a range of media from local artists Adella Lei Buss, Daven Hee, Rochelle Lum, Shigeru Miyamoto, Liz Train and Lynn Weiler Liverton.

The show was conceived for viewers of all ages and walks of life, says Uyehara. “Some of us are touching on folk tales, referencing science, biology, astronomy. We were trying to let the moon be an inspiration point.”

Izumi agrees. “Contemporary art is for everyone. My friends who are not artists are sometimes afraid they’re not going to ‘get it,’ as if there’s only one way of interpreting things. I tell people, ‘If you’ve been alive, if you’ve been around for a while, you can understand it.’ Because it’s made by another human being.”

Admission is free. “Illuminate: The Moon Show,” Academy Art Center at Linekona, May 9 to May 31. For more information, visit