by Marie Carvalho
photo by Kyle Rothenborg
“E iho ana ‘o luna, E pi‘i ana ‘o lalo,” an ancient Hawaiian prophecy chant begins: “That which is above shall come down, that which is below shall rise up.” It is a prophecy that has inspired generations of Native Hawaiians convinced that the chant’s kaona, or hidden meaning, foretells their community’s triumph over adversity. Honolulu artist and educator Meleanna Aluli Meyer puts it simply: “It’s about justice.”
And now the prophecy is also the driving force behind Ho‘ohuli, To Turn Around, an art exhibition that takes both its themes and images (of turning and rising) from the restorative chant. From featherwork to sculpture to two-dimensional paintings and drawings, Native Hawaiian artists have produced an array of artwork for Ho‘ohuli. But most impressive is the show’s ensemble work: The centerpiece of the exhibit is a massive forty-panel, eight-foot by sixteen-foot composite mural that has been months in the making. Twenty-four sets of hands have created the collaborative mural, which is unified by a palette of red, black, yellow and white. The mural incorporates imagistic elements—fire, wind, water, akua (gods) and ali‘i (royalty)—that speak to energy and creation. A border of human-like ki‘i and kanaka forms evokes the notion of rising—and of many hands working together. Anyone who’s ever watched even a handful of people try to reach consensus can appreciate the feat in creating a mural that represents two dozen artists’ aesthetics and ideas. The process was not seamless: Artists were challenged when preliminary sketches, taken as “notes” during a group brainstorming session, needed revision mid-process when the ideas were writ large as images. But as Meyer points out, “That’s life. It’s messy and chaotic. And that’s the creative process.”
In the end, Ho‘ohuli is as much about connection as it is about expression. Meyer reflects, “In spirit and physical work, it’s a manifestation of what we can do together.” Ho‘ohuli is on view at Honolulu’s Bishop Museum through March 12.