Art Makes Community Makes Art, Moloka‘i Style

Jul 15, 2016

The "Moloka'i Nui a Hina" mural team bonded through weeks of storytelling and cooking, eating, and camping with five artists from O'ahu. Together, they distilled ideas and images to create eight mobile murals which are on display at the ARTS at Marks' Garage through July 31, 2016.
Credit Tanya Maile Naehu
Five O'ahu artists, three Moloka'i artists and sixteen teens, plus their support crew, worked on the murals. Here, the early phase of sketching in elements of each panel.
Credit Tanya Maile Naehu

   A new show at the ARTS at Marks’ Garage showcases the joy and community spirit of the Friendly Isle.  Recently, five professional off-island artists banded together with three artists and sixteen teens from Moloka‘i for a visual exploration of legends and values cherished there.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports what happened was an unforgettable deepening of commitment to the island.


“Moloka‘i Nui a Hina,” continues at the ARTS at Marks’ Garage through July 31st.  The mobile murals will have a semi-permanent home at Moloka‘i High School library.

When Maui girl Tanya Maile Naehu married and moved to Moloka‘i, she was surprised at the lack of art and theater opportunities there.  An educator by trade, with a degree in Hawaiian studies, one day Naehu met arts enabler, Meleanna Meyer, who asked what she really wanted to do.  

“She asked, What do I want to do?  I said, Whatever you want to do.  And she said, Whatever YOU want to do, Maile.  I was like, Whoa, I just met this woman and she’s offering the world to me, to my family, to my community.  I was like, I want to do a mural!  And she was like, Let’s do it!!”

Naehu wanted the murals to be rooted in Molokai legends, or mo‘olelo.  Meyer committed a team of 

After images were sketched in, artists and teens added the color.
Credit Tanya Maile Naehu

  muralists if Naehu could raise the funds.

“So for thirteen months I dove into it and did something I’ve never done before.” 

Naehu wrote grants, recruited kids from all Moloka’i’s schools, and started weekend camps in mo‘olelo and storytelling.   The Consuelo Foundation gave seed monies for all the supplies for the mural and sponsored their travel to Honolulu for the exhibit.  Naehu says the Atherton Foundation gave a big chunk and the rest was raised through private donors via indiegogo or individual donations. 

“Moloka‘i legends, you really have a close tie with them because you know these places.”  Kapili’ula Naehu Ramos was a teen participant.  “Little islets or mounds, just seeing those connections really bring these mo‘olelo to life.”

Digging deeper revealed even more embedded in the mo‘olelo, Naehu says, like explanations for the behavior of winds and rain, and why for example,  mullet aren’t migrating as they used to.

Students got to see that reserach is often a huge part of art making. Here, a map of Moloka'i, some of the spots depicted in the murals, and auxiliary notes.
Credit noe tanigawa

  Naehu contends, “These answers have been forgotten and we’ve made very bad modern day choices that have really hurt our ability to feed ourselves.”

Last February, artists Solomon Enos, Al Lagunero, Kahi Ching, Harinani Orme, and Meleanna Meyer spent a week camping and brainstorming with artists Maile Naehu, Koa Kakaio and Kālā’e Ritte-Tangonan  and sixteen teens.  Then, mo‘olelo images mixed with a deeper understanding of place, when the artist teams hunkered down for another week in April, camping, cooking, painting together at Keawanui Fishpond.  I asked ‘Ilima Kaawa Ricardson how the master artists got everyone drawing and painting.

"They just treated us like family.  We got really close to them, so when they asked us to do something, they expected work to be done and we would be happy to do it.”

Each mural relates to a place, with images of different mo‘olelo.   

“They would try and wrap us up in emotion and get us feeling good about ourselves and about how the mural will represent us and our island. Then we would get as much feeling as we can onto the mural.”

Last Saturday the whole contingent brought Moloka‘i to Marks’ Garage.

They’ve ended up doing poetry, spoken word, plus the murals and other visuals.

Naehu says, “Minds open, hearts soften, when a message is shared through art.”

The exhibit, "Moloka'i Nui a Hina, ART MO'OLELO", runs through July 31, 2016 at the ARTS at Marks' Garage.
Credit noe tanigawa

Focus on the mo‘olelo of Moloka‘i  added depth and context to the “Moloka‘i Nui a Hina” project.   Naehu relied on Molokai elder, Aunty ‘Opu’ulani  Albino,  to convey the stories that ultimately served to link teens more closely with their island.  Albino studied with renown Moloka‘i  kumu hula, John Kaimikaua.  

This show is also an introduction to three Moloka'i artists, including Tanya Maile Naehu, who designs fashions as well as art projects.  You may enjoy her Instagram site.  See works by Koa Kakaio and Kālā’e Ritte-Tangonan below.

Batiks by Molola'i artist Kālā’e Ritte-Tangonan line the windows at Marks' Garage. Maile naehu says sometimes Moloka'i residents wake up to wall murals Ritte-Tangonan has painted overnight!
Credit noe tanigawa
Examples of work by Moloka'i artist Koa Kakaio are also on display in the gallery.
Credit noe tanigawa