- Kanu Kaho'olawe: Replanting, Rebirth
Kanu Kaho'olawe: Replanting, Rebirthis a visual art exhibit hosted by the University of Washington's Burke Museum in Seattle. It features photography by Jan Becket and mixed-media paintings by Carl F K Pao. The exhibit, whose opening marked the fortieth anniversary of the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana campaign to stop the bombing of the island and reclaim it, focuses on the lasting effects of US military occupation and weapons testing on the island as well as the work of Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) to reconnect to and revitalize Kaho'olawe through community efforts.
In the exhibit, Kaho'olawe's militarized history is told through two contrasting yet complementary perspectives. Pao is a Kanaka Maoli artist who has not yet visited the island, and Becket is a non-Native photographer who has made several visits to Kaho'olawe. Pao's paintings and Becket's photographs are displayed in pairs that are thematically in dialogue with each other. The pairing of painting with photograph allows each work to enliven and enhance the other. The harmony produced by the differences in the artists' experiences reinforces the central message of the exhibit: hope for the revitalization and regrowth of the 'āina (land).
Between the two artists' works there is also dramatic contrast, evident in the choices they made regarding the use of color. Becket's photographs in black and white capture important scenes—sacred [End Page 396]sites, marks of destruction, and people working to replant native species—and make these stories more accessible to the public. Pao's paintings are composed of bright colors, each of which is symbolic of an aspect of Kaho'olawe. Perhaps the most noticeable colors on his canvases are the scattered pockets of green, which represent the island's regrowth. Situated within the earth, the sea, the sky, the sands, and the pō (night, darkness, the realm of the gods), these seeds of rebirth are beacons for the viewers' eyes. Another significant aspect of Pao's paintings is the underlying image of a bomb that looms behind the vivid compositions—it is a reminder of the effects of military testing on the island, which continue to present challenges to restoration work. They can never be fully erased from the picture because evidence of weapons testing, such as unexploded ordnance, is still found throughout the island.
In a section of the exhibit that discusses luku (destruction) of the 'āina are two paired works. The photographs show examples of damage on Kaho'olawe, including a close-up shot of Sailor's Hat Crater, which resulted from multiple tests meant to simulate the effects of nuclear weapons. During the opening of the exhibit, Becket pointed out that what appeared in this image to be bushes by the rim of the crater were trees and that what looked like a small rock on the far side was in fact a boulder as tall as a person. This put into perspective how profoundly US military testing impacted the island. The paintings that accompany Becket's photographs are upside down. As Pao explained, "We can huli, or overturn, what has been done to the land in the past through collective efforts to take responsibility for healing it today." This is one of several examples of kaona—one of many layers of meaning—that can be drawn from the paintings.
Something that should also be noted is the wall color of the room, an often-overlooked part of the experience of an exhibit that can play a significant role in contextualizing works of art. The color selected by the artists is a soft grayish-tan, not unlike the color of freshly strained kava. Before the works were installed, I had the chance to walk into and be immersed in the empty room. It seemed to me that, once the works were set up, they settled into the walls with ease. This color also visually complements both the paintings and photographs.
The opening of the exhibit brought together people from many backgrounds, including members of...