Hawaiian Artistry Takes Center Stage in Compelling New Exhibit
Get an artists’-eye view of Native Hawaiian arts and culture at Bishop Museum’s newest exhibit, on display through October 29, 2023.
A new Bishop Museum exhibit celebrates Hawai‘i’s rich arts and culture through acclaimed Native Hawaiian artists while exploring how they share their knowledge across generations.
That crucial work—teacher and student working side by side—really is the heart of the exhibit, says curator Marques Hanalei Marzan. That relationship ensures “the community is aware that this kind of knowledge is being passed down and still is available to anyone who wishes to learn.”
“Ola Ka Noʻeau: Excellence in Hawaiian Artistry” is presented through a partnership with the PAʻI Foundation’s Maoli Arts Movement initiative. It features diverse artworks from 13 notable Hawaiian artists that include featherwork, bark cloth, tools, decorated gourds, plaiting and visual design.
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“This exhibit really reinforces my hope and desire to reconnect with community partners, particularly in the arts,” Marzan says. Highlighting that bond between student and teacher reinforces the generational link as a fundamental value in Hawaiian culture.
Video clips of the artisans and their students show them working, explaining in their homes and backyards. That gives a deeper understanding of the process and the people behind these creations. The works of the more experienced teachers hang side by side with those of their talented students, which allows them to shine together and separately, tracing the genealogy of the artistry.
Here’s a sample: There’s master Umi Kai explaining the craft work behind vital tools alongside student Kunane Wooton, who is honoring the historic traditions while also designing a surfboard with his modern vibe. See teacher Imaikalani Kanahele’s visual design work, student Cory Kamehanaokalā Taum’s pieces, then the work they did together.
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We learn about the late Marie McDonald, known for both her seminal books on leimaking as well as kapa making. In 1990, the National Endowment for the Arts named her a National Heritage Fellow. She worked closely with her daughter, Roen Hufford, who also immersed in the work of reclaiming and expanding the Hawaiian art of kapa. This year, the NEA named Hufford a National Heritage Fellow, another symbol of how their work stretches across the generations.
For the PAʻI Foundation, the exhibit provided a way to work with the museum to showcase and feature Native Hawaiian artists and cultural practitioners who have “dedicated their lives to perpetuate their arts and traditional cultural practices for future generations,” says Vicky Holt Takamine, PAʻI Foundation executive director.
Marzan, an artist himself, serves as curator for cultural resilience for the museum as well as exhibition curator and emphasizes that many of the artists are longtime educators.
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Exhibit designer Michael Wilson brings light sources that glow from beneath to represent the wisdom of the past with additional light from above as a nod to the future. The artists’ passion for their arts and teaching shine through, giving a peek-behind-the-scenes feel to the exhibit.
“All of them pretty much have that same kind of mindset and understanding that the knowledge that they steward and care for isn’t their own,” Marzan says. “It’s something that they hold for the community, and they want to make sure that those things never go to sleep again and [that they] find a home in the next generation.”
“Ola Ka Noʻeau: Excellence in Hawaiian Artistry,” is in the museum’s J. M. Long Gallery now through Oct. 29, 2023.
1525 Bernice St., (808) 847-3511, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, bishopmuseum.org