The Kalihi mural unveiled last July was the third in the series of ten murals Estria is now creating around the world. The project, Water Writes, is run through Estria’s newly formed Estria Foundation; all ten murals are being painted to highlight the importance of access to fresh water across the globe. Before the Kalihi mural, Estria painted the first two in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles and downtown Oakland; the remaining seven will include murals in the Philippines, El Salvador and Colombia. From the need for clean drinking water in Palestine to tribal protests against water pollution in Arizona, each will feature struggles specific to its region.
Painter, tagger, sprayer, fly: World-renowned graffiti artist Estria Miyashiro is traveling the globe creating murals dedicated to the importance of access to fresh water; last summer he painted a “Water Writes” wall in Kalihi featuring Queen Lili‘uokalani at its center. Making the Honolulu mural was, says Estria, “the single most important and fulfilling experience of my career.”
The Estria Foundation was established, its founder says, with a simple mission: to leave things better than they were. To that end Estria has also established the only national graffiti competition in existence, the Estria Invitational Graffiti Battle. The one-of-a-kind competition offers artists an outlet for their skills and creativity; it begins with several regional competitions in cities across the country, and the two top competitors from each locale then travel to Oakland to vie for the overall title of Battle King.
Last September Honolulu played host to one of the regional battles, and the theme for the day was hänau, the Hawaiian word for “birth.” One of the top finishers, who goes by the tag name CKaweekS, came up with his own interpretation of the legend of the birth of the Hawaiian people. He depicted two fetuses: one the human ancestor of all Hawaiians, the other his stillborn brother, the sacred kalo plant, both growing in the womb of a mountain-like mother goddess.
The power that legend and the natural world evoke in these Islands isn’t lost on Estria. When he worked on the Kalihi mural, a yellow butterfly would visit the crew each day before fluttering away. When a group of social workers from the Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center arrived to check on the mural’s progress, he told them about the butterfly.
“You do know those butterflies were a favorite of the queen’s, right?” they asked. Later, scouring the state archives for a more detailed photograph of the queen, Estria found a jeweled butterfly adorning the monarch’s upswept hair. He decided to paint a yellow butterfly on her portrait in honor of the message he felt the little butterfly was bringing. “It’s like the queen was saying saying, ‘Aloha,’” he says. “She was telling me I was meant to do this.”