story by Chad Blair
photo by Lani Kamau Yamasaki
Breaking into the art world is tough for any artist, but over the years it has proven especially difficult for contemporary Kanaka Maoli artists. "For many years there has been a lack of support for, and awareness of, Native Hawaiian artists in the community—what our traditional arts forms are, our cultural practitioners, what our contemporary artists are doing," explains veteran Hawaiian rights advocate Vicky Holt Takamine. "It's especially hard for young artists to come up today, because there is no infrastructure to support them—they are least likely to show their work in galleries and museums."
To help alleviate this situation, Takamine turned to the federal Institute of Museums and Library Services, which agreed to provide financial backing for her Pa'i Foundation—a nonprofit arm of her halau, Pua Ali'i 'Ilima, which has now partnered with the Bishop Museum and the Hawai'i State Art Museum to sponsor an annual, month-long celebration called MAMo ... that is, Maoli Arts Month.
Solomon Enos is one of this year's participating artists. Born and raised in Wai'anae, Enos, thirty, is a painter, illustrator, digital and mixed-media artist. He says MAMo helps foster the growth of native artists who want to cultivate their identity. "If we are creating art only for ourselves, we are missing an opportunity to reach out to others," Enos explains. "When my work is shown, I feel I am contributing to the conversation about Hawai'i's history and traditions."
Some compare Enos to the revered painter Herb Kane. His work is featured in local galleries, and in books like Akua Hawai'i: Hawaiian Gods and Their Stories. His color cartoon strip, "Polyfantastica," runs each Sunday in the Honolulu Advertiser.
"Maoli Arts Month is a great way for native artists to exhibit their work and find a larger audience," he says. Modeled on the Santa Fe Indian Market, this year's events include a Nu'uanu street fair, art demonstrations, workshops, exhibits and receptions. MAMo's May 2 launch also coincides with the "First Friday Gallery Walk" in Honolulu's downtown/ Chinatown area.
Maoli Arts Month