The Real Deal

Maoli Arts Month spotlights contemporary Native Hawaiian arts.

Founder Vicky Takamine and artist Kunane Wooton prepare for Maoli Arts Month.

Photo: Rae Huo

Some of the most intriguing Native Hawaiian art blends old and new. Here are two contemporary artists who have been with MAMo from the beginning:

Kunane Wooton

Photo: Courtesy of Kunane Wooten

Kunane Wooton is one of a new generation of artists who has been raised in the Hawaiian Renaissance. “A lot of the pieces I’m doing are based on making that connection between traditional knowledge and modern knowledge,” he says. This untitled piece, from his Na‘au (Guts) series, poses questions about generational and cultural continuity.

Harinani Orme

Photo: Harinani Orme

Harinani Orme paints acrylic scenes from Hawaiian myth. Of MAMo, she says “It bonds me to my fellow artists. The [Native Hawaiian] musicians have it together, the hula guys have it together. Artists, we stay in our studios and we don’t really go out there. I’m so grateful and so thankful that they are doing this.”

When Vicky Holt Takamine, kumu hula and founder of the Pai Foundation, gets mad, good things tend to happen. Maoli Arts Month (MAMo), the annual, monthlong showcase of Native Hawaiian arts, is a case in point: Late in the last century, when the Hawaii Convention Center was set to open, Takamine found that although more than $1 million worth of art had been purchased to create what was being touted as a Hawaiian art collection, “not one penny went to a Native Hawaiian artist.” When she inquired, she was told that they planned to display “real” artifacts from the Bishop Museum. Her voice rises a notch. “And nobody is making Native Hawaiian art today?”

Hawaiian performing arts—hula and music—have a strong public presence. But Takamine realized that contemporary Hawaiian arts were getting lost in the shuffle. The danger, she says, was not only from on high, but from below, as traditional skilled craftwork was being edged out by cheap knockoffs. “We have so much out there that are copies of Native Hawaiian art. You’ve got quilts and potholders that are copies of quilt patterns, but made in the Philippines. You’ve got mass-produced lauhala being sold as Hawaiian weaving.” (For more on this, see HawaiianTM, which appeared in our Jan. 2008 issue.)

A visit to New Mexico’s annual Santa Fe Indian Market, a massive, two-day native arts fair that gathers together more than 1,000 Native American artists, provided the template for a solution. Takamine saw “100,000 people, everybody buying art … And I said to myself, ‘Why are we not doing this for our Native Hawaiian artists?’”

With that, MAMo was born. Each May since 2006, artists from across the Native Hawaiian art community gather to participate in a monthlong showcase. Its cornerstones are the arts market and keiki art day, held simultaneously at Bishop Museum. There will also be a wearable arts showcase in Waikiki, a street fair and gallery shows throughout downtown Honolulu.

For Takamine, Native Hawaiian art is not just about traditional methods. “We’ll provide you with the breadth and diversity of Native Hawaiian art, from traditional materials—featherwork, kapa, sculpture, wood, stone—to acrylic on canvas.”

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