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ʻAi Pōhaku curators call on UH for lack of Native Hawaiian art representation

University of Hawaiʻi

It has been 23 years since a major exhibit of contemporary Native Hawaiian artists has been on display at the University of Hawaiʻi.

The exhibit titled "ʻAi Pōhaku, Stone Eaters" opened in January at UH Mānoa and has since inspired a petition urging the university to increase its support of Hawaiian art and artists on its campuses.

ʻAi Pōhaku refers to a line in one of the most famous songs of Native Hawaiian resistance Kaulana Nā Pua. The lyric speaks to the people’s willingness to “eat stones” rather than surrender the kingdom.

And in the context of this art exhibit, it's about creative resistance.

ʻAi Pōhaku features work from about 40 kānaka artists at UH Mānoa’s Art Gallery. This includes different installations from painting to sculpture, feathers to fibers. Noelle Kahanu is the co-curator of the exhibit, along with Drew Kahuʻāina Broderick and Josh Tengan.

"So this exhibit really speaks to that absence, but it also speaks to the fact that Hawaiians continued to create despite the lack of institutional support," Kahanu said.

More than 400 university and high school students have already toured the exhibit, which Kahanu said prompted discussions on the underrepresentation of Hawaiian art and artists at UH.

"We’re talking about an entire generation of adults that were born, raised, and are now in a university system and during that whole time there’s never been a major exhibition of Hawaiians," Kahanu explained.

The exhibit inspired an online petition calling on UH to boost its support of kānaka ʻōiwi art.

University of Hawaiʻi

"So that's looking at more support for kānaka ʻōiwi art exhibitions, as well as a kānaka ʻōiwi visual culture faculty position, and also to offer art courses from a Hawaiian worldview and perspective," Tengan said.

The petition received more than 300 signatures so far and can be found online at www.Puuhonua-Society.org/AiPohaku.

The ʻAi Pōhaku, Stone Eaters Exhibit is open through March 26 with tours and artists' talks available on Fridays and Sundays.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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