Editor’s Note: Freelance photographer Holly Suthard photographed the Kakaako mural in August as it was being painted. Civil Beat’s Anita Hofschneider offers an update on the work that’s been done.

Newcomers to Hawaii may not equate Honolulu with a vibrant art scene, but a recent community mural project in Kakaako is one example of how urban art has been muliplying.

“I think that we are just beginning a phase of creative collaboration in this town,” said Maile Meyer, a curator at Two Eyes Gallery and the owner of Native Books. “Urban art is a very visible form of creative collaboration.”

Nonprofit organizations like 808 Urban and Pow Wow Hawaii have been working to increase the presence of community art in Hawaii.

“Graffiti muralism can really be a very transformative community outlet for social uplifting and community revitalization,” said Nikila Badua, a co-director of 808 Urban. The organization, founded in 2006, seeks to train and inspire youth to become community artists and grassroots organizers. Its founder John “Prime” Hina has contributed to more than 50 public murals over the past eight years.

Badua was one of more than a dozen artists who participated in the Kakaako for All mural project in August, a 450-foot mural painted in the span of 10 days last month. The artists began with a bright red backdrop and painted over it with shapes found in Polynesian tapa cloth. Because Auahi St. in Kakaako was once Oahu’s shoreline, the artists drew inspiration from the ocean.

Meyer, who served as the project manager for the mural, said that while she has previously been involved in several similar projects, including indigenous artwork at the Hawaii Convention Center, the Kakaako project took her experiences to a new level.

The experience was deeply cultural, Meyer said, involving mainly Polynesian artists and beginning and ending with prayer to kupuna. But it was also inclusive, allowing anyone who showed up on Aug. 11 the chance to paint.

“When Hawaiians get to work the way Hawaiians want to work, everyone is involved,” Meyer said.

The project required cultural sensitivity because the mural was painted in an area where iwi had been found and reburied. The artwork will stand for a year until Ward Warehouse turns the space into a mixed-use retail development.

Robin Fifita, the lead artist, said that the artwork was important despite its temporary existence because it involved indigenous people and residents of Kakaako.

“To have [art] through a Polynesian lens, through the people who are from this place to tell a story about themselves, I think it’s very unique,” said Fifita, who is Tongan. “Whether people see it or not or if it’s only for a year, just the experience and being able to have a voice, I think is the message, that people from Hawaii get to speak for themselves.”

She said that the project sought to inspire young artists as well as honor both the past and present of the Kakaako community.

“The movement of the lines that are intersecting and crossing really represent the intersection of time and place and people because Kaka’ako is changing all the time and we realize that,” she said.

Fifita also participated in a Kalihi community mural project last summer. Other major recent murals in Hawaii have included Water Writes, which takes place in 10 cities globally, and Pow Wow Hawaii, which invites artists from around the world to Honolulu.

Photos by Holly Suthard:

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