- Contemporary Art in Honolulu in the Spring of 2019
Presented at thirteen locations, Honolulu Biennial showcased forty-seven artists from fifteen countries and ran from March 8 through May 5, 2019. Participants included the prominent installation artist Chiharu Shiota (Japan | Germany), the Aboriginal artist and 2020 Sydney Biennale artistic director Brook Andrew (Wiradjuri People | Australia), the collective Postcommodity (Cherokee, Mestizo | United States), the installation artist Maika'i Tubbs (Kānaka Maoli | United States), and the transdisciplinary artist Demian DinéYazhi' (Naasht' ézhí Tábąąhá).
Newcomer iBiennale presented sixty-six artists from seventeen countries at one venue in Kapalama, Honolulu, over two weeks, March 9–24. Preeminent participants included Yoko Ono (United States, Japan) and David Medalla (Philippines, UK) as well as Masami Teraoka (Japan, Hawai'i), Dan Taulapapa (Samoa, United States), and FX Harsono (Indonesia). From April 4 through May 4 the exhibition CONTACT 2019: Acts of Faith featured twenty-one Honolulu artists who created site-specific intervention artworks installed at the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic site. In its sixth year, the project explores "contact" as it relates to the Hawaiian Islands, its people, and their experiences. Participating Hawaiian artists included Drew Broderick, Nanea Lum, and Marques Hanalei Marzan. The touring exhibition In Pursuit of Venus [Infected], by the New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana, showcased at the Honolulu Academy of Arts from March 2 through July 14. These four exhibitions are the subject of this review.
The Honolulu Biennial (HB) is a new leader for contemporary art in the Pacific. HB was founded to bring international art and artists from the margins and the center to Honolulu, Hawai'i, the fiftieth state of the United States. An effect of internationalization in the Pacific and a hallmark of HB is geography-, politics-, and place-based art practice from the Islands and from global locations.1 [End Page 233] Hawai'i's population is native, diverse, and underrecognized for deep social and cultural relationships to neighboring Pacific islands and Americanprotected territories. The enmeshing of its permanent, itinerant, and migrant residents is unspoken but understood in the community and local political frame.2 Pacific peoples colonized by Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, or America produce human conditions markedly different from other parts of the world.3 In this way, discourses particular to Europe and Asia were less evident in the HB context.
Honolulu Biennial Theme: To Make Wrong/Right/Now
In its entirety, the curatorial premise was an elaborate thesis.4 The importance placed on the Native Hawaiian cordage knowledge and practice is a theoretical storying of cordage traditions shared by Pacific Island peoples. For example, ocean-voyaging double-hull canoes composed of wood were fastened and bound with traditional cordage lashing, a tradition still practiced today. 'Aha, or braided or twisted fiber cordage, is thus a binding material that the curators embraced as a continuity metaphor for what connects Pacific peoples. A "call to action" poem by the biennial participant Imaikalani Kalāhele was cited to honor the artist and propel the theme and to underscore a Hawai'i "situation" as evidence of something: toward making wrong right.5 The HB19 introduction to the catalog explains:
In honor of Kalāhele and his poetry, we have taken inspiration from the poem and tethered our approach to the metaphor of the 'aha (cordage). … As a metaphor, 'aha has several meanings, including the link or record that connects past, present, and future, transcending settler temporalities to focus on relationality and the transmission of knowledge between generations.
Where the proposition becomes unclear is that knowledge, and its intergenerational transmission, is continuous, Pacific-wide. Moreover, smart technologies have changed the way we relate as human beings, and the new "cordage" is wireless, artificial, and unbraided. Confusing "continuity" and "transmission" of knowledge is an unprecedented twenty-first-century world identity crisis, to which there is no escape or exemption for settler, immigrant, diasporic, displaced, itinerant, and indigenous peoples. Making right on any injustice or historical wrongs between colonizer and colonized is a real issue and a slow course of action. So is raising consciousness in the community, but it is an optimistic goal toward activating actual change in society. Despite this...