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Hawaii Scholastic Journalism Association

Contemporary art is ‘Now | Here’

Photo courtesy of Taylor McKenzie

Photo courtesy of Taylor McKenzie

Photo courtesy of Taylor McKenzie

The distorted global perspective of Hawaii is all too commonly known among kamaaina. Ideas of white sandy beaches along with scantily-clad hula girls often overshadow the cultural mash-up and artistic scene that bring vitality and character to the islands. The world of contemporary art makes its international debut in Hawaii as it strives to change the ethos of the islands.

As a new arts festival, the Honolulu Biennial will open in 2017 from Mar. 8 to May 8. This biennial is the first to be held in Hawaii that focuses on featuring local and international artists. The Honolulu Biennial Foundation (HBF), a nonprofit organization which spearheads the event, was founded in 2014 and has made preparations for the event since then.

The exhibition is expected to attract 32,000 people to Hawaii and $49.7 million to the economy, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA). Exhibits of the biennial are set to be on display at various locations on Oahu; such as the Foster Botanical Garden, Honolulu Hale and the McCoy Pavilion.

Isabella Ellaheh Hughes, co-founder of the HBF, contributes her background in contemporary art to the biennial. Originally an art curator, her accidental introduction to art journalism introduced her to the stigmatized perspective of Hawaii and led her to participate in the initiative to transform the little-known face of the contemporary artist in Hawaii.

Her goal, along with that of HBF, is to gain international recognition for Hawaii artists since the arts are often overlooked.

“Part of our overall theme and strategy of exhibiting local artists who aren’t really well-known [is] pairing them up with major international artists. [This] is our vision to help elevate the status of Hawaii,” said Hughes.

Evon Le, a graduate student at the University of Hawaii (UH) at Manoa, believes that it is difficult to define local art.

“When you mention local art, people are lost,” Le said.

The exhibition, titled “The Middle of Now | Here” reflects Hawaii’s geographic location in the “middle of nowhere,” as well as its ability to act as an internationally and culturally-rich hub for creativity.

“The founders of HBF and our Board of Directors very much believe that this is about highlighting the city of Honolulu and Hawaii’s artistic talent in a much more inclusive way,” said Hughes.

Artists such as Yuki Kuruhara and Yayoi Kusama from Japan as well as Charlton Kupaa Hee from Oahu join their peers from the Pacific and Asia to gain international acclaim for the biennial and the state of Hawaii.

Hughes said, “We really are the center of creativity, where east meets west. It’s a perfect location for artistic talent and cultural minglings to flourish.”

The Honolulu Biennial, through the medium of contemporary art, will reveal a vibrant and colorful world most Hawaii residents and international citizens alike do not know exists. It will put Hawaii on the artistic map as a place of both traditional and contemporary peoples, giving a new name to the tiny island chain in “The Middle of Now | Here.”

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