“Waikiki is an enigma,” mumbles my dinner companion. We’re seated in a second-floor restaurant overlooking Honolulu’s famous neighborhood beach, where Duke Kahanamoku inspired generations of surfers and where tourists and locals still gather to watch the sunset. It’s an interesting thing for a local who works in the arts to whisper through a kale salad, but it’s a valid point.
The conundrum, according to my new friend, is that Waikiki is one of the most recognizable tourist destinations in the world. It’s crowded at all hours of the day, filled with hotels and shops, and while it’s the only stop visitors to the island of Oahu make, they may not leave with a clear idea of where to go. the land they are on and the people who live there. Still, the income and jobs the Honolulu neighborhood brings to the local economy are vital, and the fact that it attracts so many visitors (10 million reported people visited Hawaii in 2019) hypothetically means that there will be a much greater chance that the true story of the island will be amplified for people around the world.
It is a problem that the recent opening Hawaii Triennial (this edition is called “Pacific Century–E Ho’omau no Moananuiākea”) tackles it head-on. Spread across seven of Oahu’s major cultural institutions, the ambitious program – which features work by 43 artists, including Ai Weiwei, Jennifer Steinkamp and Theaster Gates, in addition to numerous native Hawaiian artists, as well as workshops, panels and Virtual Enterprises – will last 11 weeks and will offer visitors not only the opportunity to see photographs, paintings, sculptures and performances from the Pacific and beyond, but also a chance to examine aspects of Hawaii that are not not always visible from Waikiki Beach.
“When I was asked to curate the exhibit, I was very interested in the question, ‘Why Hawaii? Garden in Washington, DC “That’s what appealed to me, the idea of organizing an exhibition in response to a place. My own studies and writings on contemporary Asian art made me think, “What if, in this century, artists from Asia and the Pacific were seen as central rather than peripheral? Instead of thinking that Hawaii is at the edge of the continental United States, ‘What if this was the center?’ »
With a team of curators that included Dr. Miwako Tezuka, associate director of the Reversible Destiny Foundation in New York, and Drew Kahu’āina Broderick, an artist, curator, educator and native Hawaiian, Chiu built a program that addressed that question. . The triennial covers venues such as the Royal Hawaiian Center, Honolulu Museum of Art, Iolani Palace, Hawaii Theater Center, Foster Botanical Garden, Hawaii State Art Museum and Bishop Museum, and includes photography, sculpture, multimedia works, and site-specific pieces that are thought-provoking and stimulating.
Hawaii’s issues are specifically addressed throughout the triennale. At the Hawaii State Art Museum, the documentary work of the video production team Joan Lander and Puhipau (known collectively as Nā Maka o ka ʻĀina), which addresses topics such as land rights and the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, is screened alongside previously unseen archive footage. Nearby, the work of Hawaiian publishing house ʻElepaio Press, co-founded in 1976 by brothers Richard and Mark Hamasaki, is featured in an exhibition that celebrates the beauty of printed products and recalls earlier eras of struggles still being waged today. today.
At The Bishop, New York, artist Michael Joo’s ‘Fossil Bed’, consisting of a 400 million year old petrified lily pad resting on a four-poster bed, raises questions about time and earth, but also refers to Queen Liliʻuokalani, Hawaii’s last sovereign monarch, and her infamous house arrest. In another piece is Gaku Tsutaja’s “Enola’s Head”, a fabric and video piece that considers the fallout from nuclear war and how Japanese and American citizens live with its consequences. At the Honolulu Museum of Art, Theaster Gates presents his film A clay sermon as well as a collection of his own ceramic works. Nestled in the groves of the Foster Botanical Garden, Ai Weiwei’s three-piece “Tree” series feels at home among the lush foliage, but also aims to draw attention to the social structures of China, a country that l artist left after being imprisoned in 2011.; in the garden’s orchid greenhouse, Hawaiian fashion brand Toqa presents “Extreme Sport Resort,” an immersive installation that not only features their clothing, but also a film and native flowers. Pieces from their line are available in the gift shop. At the Hawaii Theater Center, Ming Wong’s multimedia play “Bloody Marys—Song of the South Seas” addresses racial stereotypes in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. And at the Royal Hawaiian Center, an upscale shopping destination, the Double A Projects collective presents “Global Free Store,” a pop-up store where visitors can take out or leave items free of charge, which on a recent visit did turning heads among shoppers otherwise, moving between the Apple Store, jewelry stores and designer clothing boutiques.
“There is a sense of negotiation,” Chiu says of the work, which will be on display until May 8. On the one hand, there is a tourism industry that generates a lot of attention and support for the community. But at the same time, there is a complicated history around land ownership and how it happened. This is one of the big discussion points for us, how to present within the exhibition the secret history of Hawaii? If you come here as a tourist, how can we complicate that through art? »
Some mannerisms are hard to miss, like Jennifer Steinkamp’s “Queen Liliʻuokalani,” a projection and computer animation that splashed across the late monarch’s home for three nights in February. Images of the flowers grown in his garden – which supporters brought to him daily during his confinement, sometimes wrapped in the day’s newspaper to bring him news on the sly – were projected across the American Florentine villa. It was a real highlight of an exhibition, visible to all who walked by and beautiful enough to be appreciated even without knowing the meaning of the flowers. Others might surprise viewers. “Cafe,” staged by Honolulu-based publisher Tropic Editions, looms over part of the lobby of the Hawaii State Art Museum and could be mistaken for a garden variety museum canteen before visitors realize it it is also an exhibition grappling with ideas about food, art and how we feed ourselves. (The food, it must be said, is also delicious.)
“A lot of times we think of Hawaii as a paradise and we have a reductive image of the islands,” says Tezuka. “By researching, I was able to think of artists who could bring different historical perspectives and draw inspiration from the stories, cultures and legacies of this place. In doing so, we are not only speaking to communities here who know a lot, but we are speaking to international audiences and giving them a chance to learn more about the past and present of this place.
“I’m excited for the surprise moments, especially at the Royal Hawaiian Center in the middle of commercialized Waikiki. Anyone who travels here and is looking for relaxing moments at the beach could shop, and I imagine they happen in our space, see something inside and are drawn to it. This is the kind of meeting I want.
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