Aloha Spirit

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Artists from Hawai'i

Aloha Spirit
Imago Mundi has brought me on another art venture, the sixth time, to Hawai‘i, a group of islands (Hawai‘i, Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Maui, Moloka‘i, Lāna‘i) in the Pacific Ocean; the farthest away from Italy that you can get, on the other side of the world. The Kingdom of Hawai‘i originated in 1795, has been U.S. territory since 1898, and became the 50th state in August 1959.

Amber Aguirre - Imago Mundi: Hear Our Voices (2017)

In an increasingly hyper-globalized and technology-driven world, Hawai‘i (pronounced Huh-vy-ee) remains the most geographically isolated archipelago of islands on Earth, created by a chain of volcanoes stretching thousands of miles in the north central Pacific, situated more than 2,000 miles away from the nearest continental land mass and 25 hours away by plane from Italy. You do not need to look far to see that the islands are not just a sun drenched paradise, but also an open-air living museum for an ancient culture.

Jody Lovins - Come find us (2017)

Aloha Spirit shines a spotlight on the collective artistic vision from this important and dynamic Pacific neighborhood of groundbreaking and timely contemporary art, featuring the leading Hawai‘i artists alongside vibrant local talent. The collection is broken down with 80 male artists and 70 female artists, 87 born outside of Hawai‘i and 63 born in Hawai‘i and 29 trailblazing contemporary Native Hawaiians artists. Together, they explore Hawai‘i’s history, landscape, its people and their experiences, engaging with ecological concerns and issues of identity, self, birthplace and cultural traditions.

Stephen Freedman - Attachment Disorder (2016)

Aloha Spirit is inspired by Hawai‘i’s natural beauty, abundant ocean life and rich native culture. Here thrive the highest concentration of established artists in such a small cluster of islands, demonstrating that art prospers in Hawai‘i. While connecting their work to the idea of transformation, the participating artists illuminate current issues, modes of thought and personal growth signifying that art does indeed change things and people. For artist and art coordinator Gigi Manawis, “The art from here still has naiveté and pureness. It really exudes the feeling of being on the world’s most popular islands. So remote on the other side of the world. Imagine the Earth and the little dots of the Hawaiian Islands on a huge spread of blue water, is a reminder I look at a lot. It’s scary but gets the energy surging in how much Aloha is spread.”

David Behlke - Long Distance Communications (2017)

The Hawaiian Islands are seen as a microcosm for the human experience and more directly, as a way in which to reflect on some of the most pertinent contemporary issues of our time related to navigating towards a sustainable future ecologically, culturally and socially. The majority of participating artists have created new works that tell the story of the past examining the overlapping influences of nature’s bounty and human impact on a fragile environment.

Bernie Moriaz - Sail On (2017)

Deborah Gottheil Nehmad - A Round Peg in a Square Hole (2017)

Innovative Native Hawaiian artists highlight their own indigenous cultural traditions with diversity in style, genre and medium and full of the colors of Aloha. They explore how artistic expressions define the character of their changing society and environment and how artists reveal their aspirations and make a profound contribution toward explaining who they are.

Jodi Endicot - In the safety of one another (2017)

Hawai‘i is much more than its idyllic setting. For Native Hawaiians and those lucky enough to call the islands home, Hawai‘i is a way of life and a way of thinking. The native Hawaiian concepts of pono, aloha, ‘āina, ohana and mana are crucial to understanding how Hawai‘i has consistently ranked as the happiest state in America. Aloha is deeply and fundamentally Hawaiian and refers to a code of conduct according to moral standards of peace and prosperity, it is a spiritual word and you can’t help smile back every time someone says Aloha to you for whatever reason. The Hawaiians use it in greetings and farewells and in expressing love, but the word means even more, it is a way of life.

Bernice A. Akamine - Papahānaumoku, Earth Mother (2017)

Besides these common meanings, the word Aloha holds within itself all one needs to know to interact rightfully in the natural world. These insights describe an attitude or way of life sometimes called “The Aloha Spirit” or “The Way of Aloha” and the modern Aloha lifestyle. It is as if people in Hawai‘i are constantly surrounded by an affirmation or mantra to live life with love.

Gigi Manawis - Mother Earth: The Real Virgin (2017)

The island of Maui is the second best place to visit in the United States after the Grand Canyon. The tourists from all over the world enjoy, amongst other things, Hawaiian traditions such as outrigger canoe races, taro feasts and lei making workshops. The use of lei garlands goes beyond the ritual of welcoming visitors to the islands. A lei represents a loved one, so it should be made with its intended’s favorite flowers. The “Oli Lei”, a traditional song about the role of these necklaces, reaches back to the saga of the goddess Hilakaikapoliopele, sister of Pele. I was lucky to receive three beautiful handmade scented lei’s, so my love affair with the Aloha spirit has taken root.

‘Īmaikalani Kalāhele - Nīnau (Deep in the shadows where no one looks live the Maoli) (2017)

Movement and migration is the spirit of the Polynesians that first reached Hawai‘i about 500 A.D. They did not explore or sail for fun; they moved entire villages at a time looking to settle in another land on a quest for prosperity and a new life. They spent centuries in isolation developing their own culture, building on the legends and customs of the past and creating new ones. Then Captain Cook in 1778, “discovered” the islands, responded to islanders’ hospitality by leaving Hawaiians three goats, two English pigs, and seeds to plant melons, pumpkins, and onions and named them after John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich. Then, he died violently in a clash with the inhabitants in 1779. Life in Hawai‘i provided for him the opportunity to experience the extraordinary forces of nature – both constructive and destructive.

Mark Chai - Simple but Unique (2017)

Since the Hawaiian Renaissance in the 1970’s, Native Hawaiians have revived many of the traditions that had been nearly lost when Christian missionaries banned Hawaiian cultural practices. One of the revitalized customs is Tattooing, and many Native Hawaiians today proudly display their cultural identity through their tattoos. Exploring traditional materials and techniques with a contemporary twist has proven to be advantageous for their revival seen by the artist’s works in the collection.

Charles Cohan - Tea House (2017)

The Hawaiian Renaissance has to do with tourism of course, as it is one of the hottest tourist attractions, but not only that; people from all over the world have come to settle in the islands and still do. People with a vision, creative people and artists love the welcoming environment and embrace it and they become Hawaiians. Hawai‘i is a unique microcosm of the world where all cultures learn to
live with each other in harmony, accept their uniqueness and call Hawai‘i home. The Imago Mundi Collection is a perfect example of this true Hawaiian melting pot, as the artists originate from 23 states in the United States and 18 countries from around the world.

John McCaskill - Hōkūle‘a, Star Voyage (2017)

I visited three major islands – O‘ahu, Maui and Big Island – meeting numerous artists, many of them native Hawaiians. Through fifteen organized Studio Visits of the artists, I experienced the uniqueness of each artist’s habitat. I visited a second floor lanai studio, a bamboo-covered floor of a living room with tattoo tools, a backyard open studio, a restored church-style building, an organized studio/school with tools and printmaking presses, a wooden house filled with recycled materials on an exotic fruit farm, a basement open style studio and a huge studio in the middle of a tropical forest. During my stay in Honolulu, the 11th largest city in the US and the only big city in Hawai‘i, on the way to visit the artists who were spread around the islands, I witnessed beautiful beaches, rainforests with cascading waterfalls, historical sites, dynamic nightlife, fine dining and lots of great food trucks.

Uluwehi Kang - I got Lei’d (2017)

Kai‘ili Kaulukukui - Green Sea Turtle (2017)

Honolulu on O‘ahu, is built around ancient craters like Diamond Head in the expanse that goes from steep mountains and deep valleys to the beaches of Waikiki and has nothing to fear from the wrath of Pele the Goddess of fire. Over time, lava builds new land as well as consumes anything in its path. Rain provides for lush, tropical landscapes, while storms tear them down. The ocean provides a means of sustenance and travel, but also a powerful reminder of natural, destructive power. The dichotomy of these forces (and others) inform the artists’ work, which investigates elements of movement, position and time.

Christopher Edwards - Ka Piko (The Center) (2017)

Travelling through the youngest of the Hawai‘i Islands, Hawai‘i Island or Big Island, the quasi-lunar, arid landscape of the west coast transforms almost instantly before my eyes. Once inland, it is a rich and verdant oasis where low stone walls are literally overflowing with vegetation. In an hour by car, you can go from lush tropical rainforest shores to giant ferns forests that feel like Jurassic Park, push through curtains of aerial roots hanging from stranger figs and the taro plants with matted, heart shaped leaves partially submerged in water, to open land, mountains and volcanoes, deserts of raw lava flows, hot plains and snow covered volcano summits.

Carl F.K. Pao - Made in Occupied Hawai‘i Since 1893 (2017)

The weather changes as quickly, from the drenching rain of Hilo to the immense blue sky on top of the Mauna Kea snow covered summit with its Astronomical observatories. On the lower slopes of Mauna Loa, you get to look into the fiery eyes of Pele through active craters where lava fountains spill high into the air and you smell the stench of sulphur.

Hiroki Morinoue - Bleached Coral (2017)

The soil is fertile and crops grow year around as well as tropical greenery and palm trees. It’s a symbolic abandonment to nature and life so to become part of it, soul and heart, feelings and dreams in a place where everything grows forever, decaying and growing again, melting in the very soil as to allow new life and growth. The artists thrive in this community of connected people, working together, exchanging ideas and exhibiting their work in a rich medley of exhibitions, juried shows, workshops, events and get-togethers.

Sabra Kauka - Eo E Kuhaimoana (2017)

The Aloha Spirit of Hawai‘i is in the air and the artists breathe it in deeply. It is the ideal studio setting for these powerful unique artists and I understood why standing still under the warm and gentle rain of Hilo, Big Island, I felt I could become part of that spirit.

Jeera Rattanangkoon - Debate (2017)

Observing the work of Hawai‘i’s artists and you’ll see and feel the poetry of the Islands expressed in color, light and shadow – painted, printed, sculpted, etched and photographed. Likewise, Hawaiian artisans and craftspeople create masterpieces that are both timeless and timely – every one infused with the generous spirit of Aloha that’s as much a part of their nature as the sun itself.

Jennifer Karch Verzè
Art Curator

Boots Lupenui - Tiare – Hawaiian Woman (2017)

Credits: Story

Art direction, photography and production
Project management
La Biennale di Malindi Ltd.
Jennifer Karch Verzè
Project coordinator
Oriano Mabellini
Giorgia De Luca
Barbara Liverotti
Editorial coordination
Enrico Bossan
Carl Jerry Vasconcellos
Island Person
Luciano Benetton
Jennifer Karch Verzè
David Behlke
Joshua T.K. Tengan
Gigi Manawis
Translation and editing
Emma Cole
Giorgia De Luca
Valentina Granzotto
Scibbolet Service
(Michele Zurlo, Valentina Nicolì)
Pietro Valdatta
Art direction
Namyoung An
Photography of artworks
Marco Zanin
Photography of artists
Giuseppe Verzè
Marco Pavan
Special thanks to
Fondazione Sarenco
Oriano Mabellini
Oksana Ignatush
Abdulmalik Mabellini
David Behlke
(Koa Art Gallery, Honolulu)
Gigi Manawis
(Imago Mundi Local Coordinator in Honolulu)
Nancy Vilhauer
(Honolulu Printmakers Honolulu Museum of Art School)
Josh Tengan
(Na Mea Hawai‘i Gallery, Honolulu)
Andrzej Kramarz and Leo Hazelman
(East Hawai‘i Cultural Center, Hilo, Big Island)
Donkey Mill Art Center (Holualoa, Big Island)
Studio Visits
O‘ahu: Russell Surabe, Yvonne Cheng, John McCaskill, Nancy Vilhauer, Deborah Gottheil Nehmad, Keone Nunes, Jodi Endicott, David Behlke, Bernie Moriaz, Jinja Kim, George Wollard
Big Island: Bernice A. Akamine, Tom Mehau, Hiroki Morinoue, Stephen Freedman

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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