Hawai‘i State Art Museum’s Newest Exhibit Deals with the Theme of “Containment”
Christopher Edwards, Kirk Kurokawa, Mari Sakamoto and other artists explore architecture and beyond.
Hot on the heels of last month’s Altered States exhibition at HiSAM comes another one curated by Elizabeth Baxter, curator of Art in Public Places for the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. Full of rich colors and textures, Containment is a feast for the eyes. Baxter has chosen to showcase a diverse mix of media that includes brand new additions to the Art in Public Places Collection as well as pieces that have been part of the collection for decades.
She explains how the exhibition is a mix of two different interests: “First, I wanted to curate an exhibition that featured a number of various sculptural works. The Arts in Public Places Collection has a wonderful, rich, diverse collection of sculptures, many of which are vessels/containers or are abstracted vessel-like forms, so I wanted to showcase some of these works, in a variety of media and from various decades,” she says. “Next, I have been interested in depictions of architecture and interior spaces for some time. I was interested in this before the pandemic, but the lockdown only increased my thoughts about architecture as a container for humans and their things, their lives. So some of the artwork in the exhibition deals with this.”
Though it may not look like it, Chris Edwards’ formidable “Bone Towers” is made entirely out of hand-carved ceramics. “This triptych was primarily inspired by Sudano-Sahelian architecture, specifically the mud mosques found in Western Africa,” Edwards says in his artist statement. “The title of this work references the visual characteristics of these mosques, which remind me of the bones of some ancient beast, rising out of the desert.” The tallest ceramic tower stands an impressive 5 feet, 4 inches; Edwards’ skill and patience is evident in the hand-carved patterns on even the smallest sections of the piece.
Kirk Kurokawa’s photorealistic painting “Persevere” plays beautifully with light and shadow, especially within the intricate folds of shiny plastic that encase the Japanese daruma. Traditionally representing determination and perseverance, the daruma was a source of inspiration for Kurokawa during the pandemic. Made out of papier-mâché with a weighted bottom, the daruma pops right back up no matter how many times it’s pushed or knocked around.
“Night in 2020” by Mari Sakamoto also was created during the pandemic. She carefully collaged colorful hand-cut paper to create a quiet night scene during lockdown. “Every night, at home, I looked outside my window. I could see the hundreds of lights that were brightly illuminated on the dark mountain,” her artist statement reads. “There are people inside of those lights. There were lives and stories behind each light. I was watching beautiful night lights on the mountain and felt overwhelming emotion in the night of 2020.”
In the center of Containment is a long display area, much like a cabinet of curiosities, except the items it holds are displayed without barriers. Baxter explains: “I wanted to try something new with that space (the Turnaround Gallery) and I hadn’t designed anything quite like that before. Also I wanted the viewer to be able to walk around the sculptures.” Sensuous wood sculptures and elegant ceramics are shown side by side with other 3D works made with unusual materials such as lei needles, hog casings, hair, a shoebox lid and wax. With no Plexiglas wall separating you and the artwork, it’s OK to take a close look—just don’t touch.
As always, the museum visitor’s experience is key to exhibition design and curation. With Containment, Baxter says, “I would hope that visitors get a sense of the rich diversity of amazing artwork that is created in Hawai‘i, and hopefully be pleasantly surprised, as well as inspired.”
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Lisa Shiroma is a correspondent for HiSAM and is an artist and art educator. Lisa is the former owner of the HiSAM Museum Gallery Shop, which she ran with partners Aly Ishikuni-Sasaki and Travis Sasaki from Mori by Art + Flea from 2017 to June 2020.