Honolulu’s First-Ever Biennial Art Festival Brings Hawai‘i Art to the Global Scene

Honolulu Biennial takes place Wednesday, March 8, through Monday, May 8.
Honolulu Biennial Yuki Kihara
“A Study of a Samoan Savage,” by Yuki Kihara.
Photos: Courtesy of the Honolulu Biennial Foundation


When the Contemporary Museum and the Honolulu Academy of Arts merged in 2011, one of the casualties was the Contemporary Museum’s “Biennial of Hawai‘i Artists” showcase.


The Honolulu Biennial Foundation aims to fill that void in the city’s art scene.


Created by ArtAsiaPacific Magazine contributing editor Isabella Hughes, international arts curator Kóan Jeff Baysa, and international recruiter and business management pro Katherine Tuider, the Honolulu Biennial was first conceptualized as a way to present the work of acclaimed local artists alongside those of internationally recognized artists. Inspired by renowned artistic biennials such as the Venice Biennale and the Whitney Biennial, the Honolulu Biennial is intended to be a large-scale contemporary art exhibition on par with similar events around the globe—and it has already attracted international press in publications that include Vanity Fair, The Art Newspaper and The New York Times.


“One of the things we noticed in the global conversation of art is that a lot of people don’t know about artists of Hawai‘i,” says Hughes. “But, being from Hawai‘i and knowing how strong our art scene is, we thought, what’s a way to both highlight Hawai‘i and really position it as an important center in the art world?”


The event debuts this year, but the organizers have been steadily working since 2012. In fact, you may have already attended Biennial events around town. In 2014, the Biennial Foundation partnered with the Hawai‘i International Film Festival to host Chain of Fire, a prologue exhibition showcasing artwork centered around sustainability and Hawai‘i as a volcanic hotspot. Through 2015, it hosted a series of talks with visiting artists and curators at Nā Mea Hawai‘i and The Modern Honolulu. And remember those cute pink polka-dot blobs that took over the former IBM Building at Ward Village last year? They were the creation of famed Japanese conceptual artist Yayoi Kusama, whom the Biennial helped bring to Honolulu to showcase work for the first time ever.


Honolulu Biennial Sama Alshaibi


It’s all been leading up to the big event: a two-month exhibition of art spread out across eight locations in Hawai‘i, including Honolulu Hale, Foster Botanical Garden, The Arts at Marks Garage, Bishop Museum and the former Sports Authority space. The theme is “Middle of Now | Here” and the focus is on culture and issues of the Pacific Rim, with a variety of mixed media work by artists from China, Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Tonga, Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates, the continental United States and Hawai‘i, with local artists including Charlton Kupa‘a Hee, Marques Hanalei Marzan, Andrew Binkley and Drew Broderick.


“The selection process was focused on thinking of place; what it means to be an Islander, a person who lives with the ocean, or someone who has a life as an island-dweller rather than necessarily continent-dwelling,” says curator Ngahiraka Mason, former indigenous curator of the Auckland Art Gallery in New Zealand.


Mason hopes that the Hawai‘i artists will recognize themselves as working on the world’s stage as artists around the globe: “It might sound strange but until you are recognized by others, it’s hard to make a difference.”


The Honolulu Biennial runs from March 8 to May 8. Art exhibitions and events will unfold in locations across the city. Visit honolulubiennial.org for more info.



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