See Groundbreaking Works in Honolulu Museum of Art’s New “Artists of Hawai‘i Now” Exhibition
For decades, the Artists of Hawai‘i exhibit has provided local artists with funding and a powerful venue for their perspectives on the most pressing issues of our time. This year, 18 storytellers, activists and artists created a mix of video games, weapons, ceramics and more for the least traditional exhibition in its 70-year history. We went behind the scenes with a few of the artists as they completed their pieces.
Taylour Chang describes the mix of artists in the latest exhibition at the Honolulu Museum of Art as a “constellation.” The implication that they’re stars—and navigational tools—feels to me the perfect way to describe the 18 people who have been chosen by her and co-curator Marlene Siu for this year’s Artists of Hawaiʻi, called Artists of Hawaiʻi Now.
Since the 1950s, Artists of Hawai‘i has showcased contemporary art that explores how we navigate our future and spark change. This is the first time it’s been co-curated, by Chang, whom you’ll usually find at the Doris Duke Theatre where she’s the curator of film and performance, and Siu, the Arts of Hawai‘i exhibitions manager. Their perspectives are reflected in the people and pieces they’ve selected, an intriguing mix of activists and artists, some of whom worked together in groups, producing 13 traditional and anything-but-traditional creations.
“There’s a lot of powerful pieces together in this show,” Chang says, from Andy Behrle’s Ku‘u Hae Aloha (My Beloved Flag), which re-creates a quilt from the museum’s collection with digital images of waters from sacred sites, to photographer Kapulani Landgraf’s Māmakakaua, a selection of portraits of the kūpuna arrested at Mauna Kea in 2019. For some artists, it’s their first time participating in an exhibit. And it’s Chang’s first time curating one. “It’s really fun,” she says, especially when dealing with boundary-pushing works that often have interactive elements. “Despite all the trials our community and the world has faced the past few years, these artists and their creations are bright lights and are examples of how great innovation and creativity emerge from [the] darkest of times,” she says. The exhibition has evolved quite a bit from the ’50s, scaling back from an annual juried show that at times featured more than 100 works, to one that takes place every two or three years (this is the 63rd iteration).
Chang and Siu reviewed the almost 200 submissions separately and ended up with almost identical picks, gravitating toward those they considered the boldest, most fearless and relevant. Chang says many proposals were high quality, but “this particular constellation of artists felt the most timely.” Their works tackle questions such as: Who is local? How do we connect with others? What do we really value? How do we engage with our surroundings? What does it mean to create new worlds influenced by the past? What is sacred? The museum provided a stipend and reimbursed the costs of materials while the curators acted as sounding boards and advocates for the artists throughout their processes.
The final 18 include filmmakers, social activists, a video game designer, a journalist, established artists and more. Click the links below to learn about and see photo galleries of five of the featured projects.
Artists of Hawai‘i Now is on display Sept. 16 through Jan. 16, 2022, at the Honolulu Museum of Art, 900 S. Beretania St., (808) 532-8700, honolulumuseum.org, @honolulumuseum. There will also be public programming throughout the exhibition, from community forums to artist talks to hands-on workshops.