Get Lost in Honolulu Museum of Art’s New Exhibition

“Making Waves” highlights works by women from the museum’s collection, including Kaua‘i-based artist Carol Bennett.

Editors Note: Through our partnership with the Honolulu Museum of Art, HONOLULU Magazine publishes a monthly blog written by the museum’s staff.


Honolulu Museum of Art


Is there life without water? Scientists and historians have been searching for the answer to that question for years. Intentionally or not, so have artists—and the answer leans toward no.


Water is a subject that has fascinated and inspired artists throughout history and continues to play an important role in the traditions and practices of peoples around the world. It is emblematic of spiritual purification and is considered to represent the feminine force yin in Taoist philosophy. In Western mythology, the femme fatale and the dangers of water are closely tied in stories of sirens and mermaids—part woman, part animal creatures—who lure unsuspecting sailors to their watery graves. In the Hawaiian ahupua‘a system, land and water are interconnected ecosystems that sustain life.


The latest iteration of that pondering is the Honolulu Museum of Art’s new contemporary exhibition, Making Waves, on view now. It’s the first of two exhibitions highlighting the important role of female artists in the museum’s contemporary collection. The selections center around the theme of water, employed by the artists as conceptual foundation or as literal subject matter. Twenty-four artists are represented, all of whom have a special bond with water, including several with connections to Hawai‘i—such as former union artist, California native and current Kaua‘i resident Carol Bennett. Bennett swims seven days a week and is known for her paintings that capture light, women and water. Her love of swimming first fused with her love of art while she was a member of the LA Athletic Club, which has an underwater observation room below the eighth-floor pool. When she wasn’t swimming in the Olympic-size pool itself, she could be found on the seventh floor, drawing the luminous figures above her.


Honolulu Museum of Art: Why and how did swimming and art intersect so seamlessly for you?

Carol Bennett: I’m not a particularly good swimmer, but it’s like my daily meditation. My work is self-referential, so I just kind of paint what I do—and I swim. It’s like point A to point B. I finger the texture of the fabric of my everyday life and kind of idealize it, or make icons out of my everyday, so that they become kind of universal. I’m a woman and I paint women in water. [But they remain] anonymous because I don’t want it to be a specific individual; I want it to be like any woman—or every woman.


Honolulu Museum of Art
Carol Bennett (American, born 1954), Falling Waterline, 2007, Graphite, acrylic, oil on Dacron sailcloth, Gift of The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, 2011, and gift of Sharon and Thurston Twigg-Smith (TCM.2008.28), Copyright Carol Bennett


HoMA: Tell me more about the piece you have featured in the show, which differs from your more well-known pieces.

CB: I’m really excited about the piece that [assistant curator of contemporary art Katherine Love is] putting in. I don’t think many people have seen it and it’s kind of an epic piece. It’s a recycled net … I remember the piece as being quite dramatic and epic because it’s bigger than you are, and then you go into the detail and uniqueness of every knot that the net connects. Nets are always about connections for me. That net I found at Māhā‘ulepū [Beach on Kaua‘i]. I dragged home tons of nets from Māhā‘ulepū. I used to make treehouses and forts for the kids out of the nets, and that particular net is from that time.


Honolulu Museum of Art


HoMA: What do you want audiences to feel when they look at that piece?

CB: I want them to feel lost in it. That’s how I respond to that piece because I get lost in it because of its size. Everything else can just kind of float away. I think it’s kind of mesmerizing. It’s kind of like looking at a puzzle and trying to puzzle the pieces together. It’s a lot to take in in its entirety but when I look at that piece, I’m kind of compelled to look at it piece-by-piece-by-piece to see how they fit together.


HoMA: What do you think about the concept of the exhibition?

CB: I think it’s exciting, and how many museums can do that? I like that it deals with what’s unique about Hawaiʻi—our affinity and our constant exposure to the oceans and to the water and environmental concerns. It’s a good platform for artists to talk about that.


Making Waves runs June 14 through March 31, 2019 at the Honolulu Museum of Art, 900 S. Beretania St.,