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Pow! Wow! Celebrates 10 Years With New Exhibit At Bishop Museum

Noe Tanigawa/Hawaii Public Radio

Nobody disputes that the annual Pow! Wow! Street Art Festival has left its mark on Honolulu. Every day people walk or park their cars alongside murals made by international stars. This weekend, those street artists are making a resounding appearance at the Bishop Museum, with a celebration of Pow! Wow!'s first decade.

You sense things are different the second you drive up to Bishop Museum. Once you cross the Great Lawn and head into Castle Memorial Building, you are sure.

The hall is transformed, darkened, and a woman's elongated figure rises 20 feet up a grey column. She's done in a realistic style, with her hair sweeping above her.

"Yeah, that's me and Hula, who also does human form. Him and I have a very similar style so we collaborated on that one," said artist Kamea Hadar, who co-founded the Pow! Wow! Street Art Festival with fellow artist Jasper Wong.

Wong put a lot of the first Pow! Wow! on this credit card back in 2010.

"Us, running the organization, it's all about giving back. We grew up out here and we want to find ways to give back to the community through art," Wong said. 

Credit Brandon Shigeta/Pow! Wow! Worldwide
Spenser Little works on a piece at the Bishop Museum

From a ragtag start at Fresh Cafe, individual conversations with landlords on the 'Ewa side of Ward Avenue netted wall canvases across what used to be a light industrial area.

The energy and visuals were infectious.

"Looking back ten years ago, no one spent time in Kaka'ako. There was no one there. You would maybe go there to go to Fishers to buy back to school supplies," he said. "Now when you walk around there it's a  tourist district. There are tons of people walking around, all taking photos, all trying to find all the murals and because of all the foot traffic they're also discovering local shops and restaurants."

Over the last ten years, Pow! Wow! has expanded to 17 cities around the globe--Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Italy, Israel. They've done South by Southwest. That's nearly a thousand murals all together, 80 of them in Honolulu.

"Pow! Wow! is all volunteer-based," Wong said. "Because at the end of the day, you can't charge people money to go look at public art. It's there for the community and all our events are free."

Along with a week of live mural painting, Pow! Wow! Hawai'i also presents a music camp for kids, educational workshops, artist talks, a gallery show, breakdance battles, and soccer matches.

"A lot of the artists have been busy creating, but this is the first time they've actually had the chance to interact with other artists, had a chance to travel outside their cities and homes. It's just kind of alive with energy." 

Credit Brandon Shigeta/Pow! Wow! Worldwide
How and Nosm work on their piece at Bishop Museum

Like other mural artists, Hadar has spent the last year building skills and his portfolio, waiting for businesses like Hawaiian Airlines and Sheraton Hotels to jump back into sponsoring events.

"It's like the metaphor where the tide rises and it lifts up all the boats, so as the world slowly comes back to life, people are getting vaccinated, the state of Hawai'i is slowly opening, industry business, money, art, culture, everything comes to life," Hadar said.

"It comes as a good chance for us to call attention to all the art and contemporary art that has always been in our mix," said Bishop Museum Executive Director Melanie Ide.

Ide says Pow! Wow!'s exhibit, two years in the making, is a great way to start a new season for visitors.

"Creativity, energy and an international network. A broad audience base, and just a lot of inspiration. They bring so much to the table, and they open up people's eyes to the power of creative expression. These guys are on fire. I'm so excited."

Credit Brandon Shigeta/Pow! Wow! Worldwide
Roxy & Matt Ortiz work on their piece at Bishop Museum

Wander through a recreated street scene with work by Hottea, Slinkachu, Spenser Little, and Dan Witz. See large-scale originals by Shepard Fairey, Audrey Kawasaki, Defer.

Plus over 120 small originals by local and international artists like Solomon Enos, Woes, Carl Pao, Cory Taum, How Nosm and Tristan Eaton have large scale murals on the Bishop campus and there's much more. 

"POW! WOW! The First Decade: From Hawai‘i to the World" opens Saturday, May 15, through September at the Bishop Museum.

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