Graffiti Art Makes History
Kristen Nemoto Jay
Editor’s note: This summer, Pow! Wow! — a nonprofit organization street art festival — celebrates 10 years of tagging, spraying, and creating contemporary artwork with an art exhibit at Bishop Museum.
Pow! Wow!’s beginnings in 2010 started on the walls and street corners of Kaka‘ako where artists helped revive the once sketchy district into a bustling nightlife and family-friendly hangout spot. Today, Pow! Wow! has gone global as local and international artists have transformed spaces into one of a kind works of art and helped organize various events and collaborations such as gallery shows, lecture series, schools for art and music, concerts, and mural projects.
From now until Sept. 19, Bishop Museum is dedicating an exhibit that celebrates Pow! Wow!’s decade of creating and sharing their artistry with Hawai‘i and the world.
For information about the Pow! Wow! exhibit, visit bishopmuseum.org/powwow.
Hawai‘i’s street art scene is now among the artifacts that have contributed to the island’s unique history and culture as Pow! Wow! — a nonprofit organization street art festival — celebrates 10 years of creating contemporary artwork with an art exhibit at Bishop Museum.
Instantly, graffiti art captures the attention of its visitors who enter the space as sounds of sirens and street traffic whispers in the background within the darkened hall of Bishop Museum’s Castle Memorial Building. Eyes are drawn up to a woman, whose figure is painted on a 20-foot cement-like column, and is flanked by a tattoo parlor, bodega, and a 90s four-door sedan, all covered in graffiti.
Veer to the right and more wall space provides the perfect canvas for local artists to create. Included in the large wall-to-wall pieces are over 120 new paintings by local and international artists, curated by Andrew Hosner of Thinkspace and Jasper Wong co-founder of Pow! Wow!
“We’re about creating shifts and mindsets,” said Wong in a phone interview. “Shifts within the community and shifts the way people value art.”
One of Wong’s missions with Pow! Wow! is to open people’s minds and hearts through art exposure.
“Some artists came up to me and said that had they seen [Pow! Wow!] growing up, they would have pursued their love of art much sooner,” said Wong. “I hope we can continue to inspire people, and not just artists, to be creative. For I think we’re all born creative. When we get older we tend to lose our creativity even though art is all around us. It’s in our clothes, our homes, the movies we watch, the books we read. It’s everywhere and I hope to continue to help people see it because it’s so much a part of our history.”
Wailuku-born artist Edwin Ushiro appreciates how art can transport him to another time or place, especially if it’s a memory that he wants to recreate. On a Zoom call, Ushiro described a childhood memory that he had of his intermediate school classmate who once chucked an ice pack at their teacher’s face out of frustration, which knocked her unconscious and his friend expelled from school.
“I recreated that memory as our teacher playing the part of the Green Lady of Wahiawä,” said Ushiro who was always disturbed by his friend’s expressed anger that day and was also inspired by one of the many folklore stories from local historian, and former writer for The Hawai‘i Herald, Glen Grant.
According to the legend, a woman covered in green scaly skin would frequent the Wahiawä gulch and botanical garden. Ushiro recreated the scene of his childhood in his artwork piece now on display at the exhibit, to depict his former teacher as the Green Lady of Wahiawä, therefore, somewhat, justifying the hard rock that’s thrown in her face as his friend and other classmates run away.
“I hope that my work feels culturally relevant,” said Ushiro who lives in Gardena, California with his wife. “Maybe kids and maybe adults can learn from it. Stories that may have some life lessons in it, so that in the future it gets passed on.”
Ushiro is excited to be a part of the Pow! Wow! exhibit as it’s the first of its kind within the museum and makes visitors, especially the younger crowd, feel as if they are a part of its history.
“I would never have thought in my lifetime that I would see an exhibition like this,” beamed Ushiro. “And even to have my artwork in the mix. There were many levels of surrealness when the exhibit opened.”
Like Wong, Ushiro hopes every visitor will make their way to Bishop Museum’s main exhibit after viewing Pow! Wow! and further educate themselves on the connection between the two.
“I know it’s hard to look at something that’s hundreds of years old and try to find a connection to it,” said Ushiro. “So I’m hoping that will help people find that connection with Pow! Wow! there.”