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Hawai‘i for Real: Dana Paresa at Arts and Letters on Nu‘uanu

dana paresa art.jpg
Noe Tanigawa
A piece by Native Hawaiian artist Dana Paresa featuring herself as a tropical maiden

Portland has been in the news lately because of its heatwave, with temperatures hitting 114 degrees Monday. Native Hawaiian artist Dana Paresa has been living in Portland for the last eight years, thinking a lot about Hawai'i. Her new show at Arts & Letters Nu‘uanu says a lot about the pandemic experience we've all been through.

Do you remember the early days of development in Kaka‘ako? Kamehameha Schools encouraged a vibrant scene around the Kaka‘ako Agora, SPF now Aupuni Space Gallery, and the shops that are now the core of Salt.

Dana Paresa, born and raised in Kailua, captured the vibrant, edgy vibe of Kaka'ako just as it was priming for development. Then, in 2013, she moved to Portland.

"I'm Native Hawaiian right, so there's always this weight of like, 'What has the U.S. government done to Hawai'i? What are the police doing to Hawaiians?' And stuff that I think about every single day."

Paresa says she didn't escape those concerns when she left the islands.

"Absolutely not, I feel like it amplified it because being away, I'm seeking out more information."

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Noe Tanigawa
A page from Paresa's COVID-19 diary, begun the day after she found out she lost her job.

Reflections on Hawai'i and the veneer that most people see make for some of the strongest works in Paresa's current show here in Honolulu. She applies her woozy style to the usual slick imagery of palm trees, tiki, and the tropical maiden is her snickering.

Also on view, pages from Paresa's pandemic diary, begun the day after she found out she lost her job.

"Here's like March 24th, 'I didn't sleep at all last night. I didn't do anything at all today.' Yeah, it was really lonely and isolating."

Paresa worried about her mom, her family, and, like many people, she re-examined her life. It’s all on paper, her non-triumphs folding fitted sheets, the banana ginger lime bread, Jen, her partner, the gardening, all the hell, and the little joys that made quarantine survivable.

Paresa had been working as a bookbinder when the pandemic hit.

"I was on unemployment, it was the most money I've ever made in my entire life. I also sold my car, I sold a drawing tablet, I started cooking at home because of that I saved enough money to pay for school for a little over two years."

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Hawaii Public Radio
Artwork by Dana Paresa

Paresa has an art degree but is back in school for electrical engineering. It is a four-year run.

"It's really cool to be in college as an elder millennial. Yeah, I'm excited to actually be in school," she said. "I wanna be useful, especially to my community. I'm not saying anything different with art. All these things have been said before. So, what can I do now that is making actual change?"

"Black and indigenous and people of color are the first to face these kinds of things like climate change, and broken oil pipelines and all these things and I want to be able to help," Paresa told Hawai‘i Public Radio.

Engineering may turn out to be just one more tool in her art kit.

"I'm already thinking about art things I can do with these different programs I'm running. I'm like, Oh god, here we go! More mediums, more materials!"

Paresa's show, Hawai'i for Real, is at Arts and Letters on Nu'uanu Avenue through July 31.

HPR's Noe Tanigawa also interviewed Paresa on the Aloha Friday Conversation on July 2.

Artist Dana Paresa
The Aloha Friday Conversation - July 2, 2021

Noe Tanigawa covers art, culture and ideas for Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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