Honolulu Biennial offers plethora of opportunities to enjoy Pacific art

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The work "We Dreamt Deaf" by Nicholas Galanin, which uses a taxidermy polar bear for a commentary on climate change and human impact, will be exhibited at the 2019 Honolulu Biennial.
The work "We Dreamt Deaf" by Nicholas Galanin, which uses a taxidermy polar bear for a commentary on climate change and human impact, will be exhibited at the 2019 Honolulu Biennial.
Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

In just its second edition, the Honolulu Biennial, a two-month series of events and exhibitions involving artists from all over the Pacific, is growing with an expanded list of featured venues and artists.

The Honolulu Biennial Foundation was formed in 2014 by Katherine Ann Leilani Tuider, Isabella Ellaheh Hughes and Dr. KJ Baysa to support local arts with global outreach by producing the Honolulu Biennial, a visual arts festival for Hawaii.

"All of us are from Hawaii, and we wanted to do something that contributed to the local creative community and provided an international platform not only for Hawaii but also countries and continents linked by the Pacific," said Tuider. "It includes the Pacific coasts of North and South America as well as island nations within the Pacific and many groups that have been overlooked in the contemporary art world. It's the largest event focused on the region other than perhaps the Asia Pacific Triennial."

When the trio launched the foundation in 2014, they started with "zero money and zero board members," Tuider said, and it took three years to raise funds for the inaugural biennial. 

The first event in 2017 included nine sites featuring 33 artists, centered around The Hub, an old Sports Authority that was gutted and turned into a gallery space. This year, they have a dozen fixed sites and a handful of temporary pop-up sites that will also be set up in Chinatown featuring 47 different artists or artist collectives. Half of the invited artists are women and three quarters are indigenous to the Pacific, Tuider said. The Hub for 2019 is in Ward Village near Ala Moana Beach Park, and the team has converted a former Famous Footwear into an 18,000-square-foot gallery space. There is also a community stage at The Hub where local acts are invited to perform.

"One of the highlights from 2017 was the 65 highly subsidized public programs we did to make contemporary art more accessible. We opened up The Hub stage to local creative groups to perform for free. Now, word has spread and most of the 2019 spots are booked," Tuider said. "One of the biggest challenges we face in Honolulu as an artist community is space. On the island, there is very little affordable space for artists groups, musicians, dancers, film directors, all creatives."

The 2019 biennial runs March 8 through May 5, and exhibition locations outside The Hub include Aliiolani Hale, Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Foster Botanical Garden and the Honolulu Museum of Art. Artists for this year's event hail from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Taiwan, Tonga, Hawaii and the continental U.S. among others, and artists representing numerous indigenous communities are invited.

Visitors can enjoy public programming including art-making workshops, artist talks, dance performances, film screenings, fashion shows and live music.

The theme for the 2019 Biennial is "To Make Wrong/Right/Now," which comes from a poem by Imaikalani Kalahele.

"A lot of people know his poetry in our community, and I think if you ask 47 different people about the meaning of the line you might get 47 different answers," Tuider said. "I see two themes. One is to make mischief and one is to correct wrongs of the past in the present. Those two themes encompass a lot of the works we're exhibiting. Some are full of playfulness and mischievousness and some works are more hard-hitting and issue-based works."

On the more whimsical side, Chiharu Shiota, an artist from Japan, creates intricate webs of red or black wool string to form fully immersive environments that encourage curiosity and "evoke a sense of wonder," Tuider said.

On the other side, Leland Miyano, an artist and landscape designer, has created a 50-foot double-hulled canoe crafted from the wood of strawberry guava trees, an invasive plant on Hawaii.

"The inspiration for the piece comes from questions about climate change and what happens if we have to get off this island," Tuider said. "Can we get off using invasive wood? Have we lost traditional methods of weaving, navigation and canoe building."

Two artists, Bernice Akamine of Hawaii and Abraham Cruzvillegas of Mexico are collaborating on a series of works that will be installed in various sites around Honolulu based around a theme of housing and homelessness.

Other attention-grabbing exhibits Keilani Tuider highlighted include "We Dreamt Deaf " from Alaskan artists Nicholas Galanin. The work poses the front half of a taxidermy polar bear with its hind quarters removed to appear atrophied as it crawls from its disappearing environment. Also, Paul Pfeiffer has created a multimedia experience at McCoy Pavilion involving multiple screens showing the 2015 boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao (a beloved figure in Hawaii, which has a large Filipino population), but the audio is stripped of everything except those sounds emanating from the combatants - nothing but grunts, groans and the smack of leather on skin.

"I would like visitors to come away with two very different emotions, radical, unabashed joy from the works that will make people smile, laugh and feel playful and childlike," Tuider said. "And, I'd like them to walk away feeling tied to this place.  There are around 27 new commissions for the biennial. So this is not some exhibit that is helicoptered in and can be seen anywhere."

The biennial works with schools to provide free tours and programming for children, and when not holding the biennial the foundation also serves the local community by presenting educational outreach programs, smaller-scale exhibitions and professional development opportunities for the local arts community.

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