Inflammatory remarks attributed to Rep. Faye Hanohano regarding the artwork in her Capitol office are the talk of the islands.

In news reports, Hanohano, a Native Hawaiian, called the state’s Art in Public Places exhibit “ugly” and said she was upset about the absence of Native Hawaiian artists included in the selection of art for her office. She is said to have used slurs to refer to Asian and white artists.

While the Puna Democrat issued apology statements last week, the difficult issue of race and ethnicity in Hawaii remains at the forefront of discussion. Reaction to Hanohano, transmitted widely on local airwaves, print and online, includes these sentiments:

Hanohano is a racist. She’s sticking up for native pride. Her anger is justified. She should resign. Hawaiians can’t be racist because they were colonized. She should be fired. She apologized, so let’s move on.

But has Hanohano raised an important point? That art by Hawaii’s indigenous people should be celebrated?

If that was her intent, a Civil Beat analysis suggests, she appears to have had few artists to choose from.

‘The People’s Art’

The Art in Public Places program, launched in 1967, is part of the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.

HSFCA executive director Eva Laird Smith says there are some 6,000 site-specific commissioned works and relocatable works — a “museum without walls,” as it is described — under the foundation’s control. About 900 relocatable works are available for display at the Capitol, and it is from this collection that the art was selected for Hanohano’s office.

Lawmakers choose the work from index cards (HSFCA is in the process of digitizing the information) and exhibition staff then install the art in their offices. Works are rotated in and out of the program, and new art is acquired every month.

A complete list of the artworks selected by lawmakers for display during the current session was not yet available last week. It will be finalized by April 5, in time for the 5th Annual Art at The Capitol, when lawmakers invite the public to view “the people’s art.”

But Sen. Brian Taniguchi’s office provided Civil Beat with the catalogue of the artwork displayed last year in legislative offices. (It’s reproduced at the end of this article.)

The catalogue shows how popular the Art in Public Places program is, and what kind of work is displayed. Forty-eight of the 76 senators and representatives participated in the program last session.

It also shows other things.

One must be extremely cautious about deducing race and ethnicity from surnames, especially in Hawaii. And an artist’s background should not be the sole criteria to judge artwork.

Of the more than 570 artists listed in the catalogue, however, most of them appear to have Anglo and Asian surnames. That would seem to support Hanohano’s concern, however crudely stated, about underrepresentation of Hawaiian artists.

Smith said Hanohano this year kept two of the six works she had on display last year: “Mahopeo Ka Ua (After the Rains)” by Alexis Wilson and “Decorative Leaves” by Les Biller.

Hanohano also selected five new pieces for her office this year: “Lychee” by John Wisnosky, “Hilo Sunrise” by Mary Bonnier, “Papaya” by Peter Jacka, “Kapu/Komo Mai” by Kimberly M. Chai and “Fragrance-of-the-Princess” by Alice V. Knight.

Satoru Abe, Jean Charlot, Herb Kane

While the list of artists displayed at the Capitol last year includes a lot of well-known names, few are recognizably Hawaiian.

Among the more famous names in the Art in Public Places collection — at least to a casual patron of local arts — are Jean Charlot, Satoru Abe, Bumpei Akaji, Francis Haar, Fred Roster, Hiroshi Tagami, Isami Doi, Louis Pohl, Peggy Chun, Tadashi Sato, Duane Preble, Esther Shimazu, Jon De Mello, John Young, Marcia Morse, Margaret Holland Sargent and Wayne Levin.

Herbert Kawainui Kane, perhaps Hawaii’s most well-known artist, appars to one of only a handful of Native Hawaiian artists on that list. The Art in Pubic Places online photo gallery lists 18 works by the late artist.

There are 4,975 files in the Art in Public Place’s online gallery, and Civil Beat did not look at every one.

Still, Asian, Asian-American and white artists appear well-represented in the gallery.

To pick just four of the artists that were displayed last year at the Capitol, 30 of the artworks were by Tadashi Sato, 31 by Louis Pohl, 34 by Jean Charlot and 92 by Satoru Abe.

HSFCA does not categorize art by an artist’s race or ethnicity, nor seek to obtain art based on that criteria.

“It’s almost unthinkable to do that,” said Smith. “We don’t consider that at all for inclusion of any gifting.”

But HSFCA does encourage through gifting, commission and acquisition of work from locally based artists, adhering to its responsibility “to promote, perpetuate, preserve, and encourage culture and the arts, history and the humanities as central to the quality of life of the people of Hawaii.”

‘Promote, Perpetuate, Preserve’

That is a big part of Hanohano’s kuleana as well.

She is chairwoman of the House Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs committee. As a legislator, her bills have usually focused on Native Hawaiian needs.

This session alone she has sponsored legislation to protect taro and fishponds, take care of Makua and Wapio valleys and to ensure accurate and authentic use of Hawaiian names and words.

Hanohano’s biographical entry on the House website explains that she grew up “in a truly Hawaiian environment, with Hawaiian being her first language. During debate on issues of importance to the Hawaiian community, Faye has delivered her remarks in her native tongue, then offering an English translation for her House colleagues.”

The Kamehameha Schools graduate and former administrator for Kulani Correctional Facility — Hawaiians are overrepresented in Hawaii prisons — is passionate about preserving Hawaiian ways. Last month, for example, she welcomed students, teachers and families from Halau Lokahi, a Hawaiian immersion charter school, to the Capitol to celebrate the opening of Makahiki festivities.

“Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu led the school in a procession where they were greeted by Rep. Faye Hanohano (Puna), who joined in their oli (chant) and hoo kupu (gift giving to the ahu),” the House blog reported. “Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu has also been working with Rep. Hanohano’s office to put on a series of Hawaiian language classes for lawmakers this session.”

“As a Hawaiian and as a lawmaker, it brings me great joy to see the success of Hawaiian immersion schools like Halau Lokahi,” Hanohano told the House blog. “Language is at the heart of culture; the preservation and resurrection of the Hawaiian language ensures the future of our culture.”

Hanohano has honored Hawaiian and Hawaiians in other ways, too.

On her committee hearing notices, she includes phrases like “He waiwai nui ka lōkahi” (“Unity is a precious possession”). This year, during House floor sessions, she has delivered a “Ka Hua ‘Ōlelo o Ka Lā” (“Hawaiian Word for the Day”).

On Thursday, the day Hanohano’s remarks about Art in Public Places were published, her word of the day was “mihi” — “apology.” In a second apology, released later that same day, Hanohano said something that helps provide context for her offensive remarks:

Clearly comments that were intended to be an impassioned plea for increasing the visibility and support for Native Hawaiian artists were expressed in a manner that did not accurately reflect their intent, sentiment or the integrity of this office.

Art and identity are powerfully linked, and they can have a profound impact on viewers.

Take a close look at the photos on this page of Na Kanakaole, the one above, which was scanned from a HSFCA report, and the one at left, which hangs in Sen. Clarence Nishihara’s Capitol office.

Neither does justice to the power of viewing Brett Uprichard’s photo of members of the Big Island’s Kanakaole family up close.

(Uprichard, by the way, has five photos in the Arts in Public Places online gallery.)

But the photo, also part of the Arts in Public Places exhibit, demonstrates the value of the program and captures — preserves and perpetuates — the mana of these islands.

And, while not excusing it, maybe it also helps us understand a little bit about why Hanohano said what she said about art and Native Hawaiians.

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