From the Hawaiian honeycreeper – the scarlet ‘i‘iwi – to the iconic silversword, ‘ahinahina, Hawai‘i is known for its unusual and beautiful native species. Over millions of years, natural selection took the flora and fauna of the extremely isolated archipelago in unique directions. Isolated from all major landmasses and with little competition, evolution became extremely creative, producing plants and animals that are not seen anywhere in the world.
Today, with international flights and shipping, monocrop agribusiness like pineapples and cane sugar, and poor stewardship, many of the natives have gone extinct or are endangered. “The majority of land below 2,500 feet is no longer dominated with plants and animals that originated here before humans arrived,” explained Allison Borell, East Maui Watershed Partnership Community Outreach and Education Liaison.
Though the situation is pressing (and sometimes depressing), there are many on the island who are working towards conservation. One of the ways conservationists bring attention to natives, their fragility and meaning, and efforts to preserve them, is through an annual celebration of the beauty and form of these creatures and plant life, depicted by local artists through a wild variety of mediums.
In a partnership with the East Maui Watershed, the Hui No‘eau Visual Arts Center is presenting Malama Wao Akua (“caring for the realm of the gods”) 2018, an annual exhibition now in its 14th year. It opened earlier this month and will run through November 9 in a display that is free and open to the public daily from 9am to 4pm. The exhibition is juried by conservation juror Fern Duvall and art juror Mina Elison, and features art from adults and students of all ages from around the island.
“Malama Wao Akua celebrates its fourth year at Hui No‘eau this year!” said Katie Peterson, Hui No‘eau’s Membership Coordinator. “Every year, it is so inspiring to see new artists joining in among seasoned veterans of the exhibition. Rooted in native species education, this exhibition truly lends itself to the inclusion of children, conservation specialists, and budding artists.”
The art is diverse and impactful, ranging from sculpture to painting, jewelry to photography, and beyond. “The magic of this exhibition lies in the diversity of the work,” said Peterson. Curving koa leaves, mythic ‘ohi‘a lehua, and famous birds like nene and pueo are prominently featured. The art ranges “from the delicate botanical renderings of Charie Attix and Maggie Sutrov to the bold body painting of Melissa Bruck, from the intricate soft geometry of Christina Haines to the videography of Sherry Ringer; from kapa dyed with ‘uki‘uki, ma‘o, ‘iliahi, koa by Denby Freeland, to the handcrafted mineral pigmentation of Terrace Temple.”
“Artists must complete a certain amount of research to be sure they are featuring a species native to Maui Nui,” explains Peterson. “This process, in and of itself, functions to build a greater awareness of Maui’s unique natural history and native biota, much of which exists in less-traversed areas of the island.”
Public education and awareness is at the heart of the exhibition. “Malama Wao Akua gives us the opportunity to educate, not only artists, but also visitors and Maui residents alike about the beautiful and often fragile species native to Maui Nui, often unseen by the public eye,” said Peterson. “Every year this awareness grows more and more.”
“Over the years I have noticed the variety of native flora and fauna subject matter get more and more diverse as artists delve into the world of what is native to Maui Nui,” said Borell.
The exhibition will also include Talk Story Thursdays from 5 to 6pm, in which conservationists will speak to the public about work in the field to protect natives. “The exhibit does not stop at the opening night,” said Borell. “We continue the education by displaying informative title cards for each art piece in the exhibit and by bringing in different environmental experts from land and sea to share their many years of research, education and knowledge with the community.”
Talk story schedule:
Oct. 4: Hank Oppenheimer, Maui Nui Plant Extinction Prevention Coordinator
Oct. 18: Nicole Davis, Maui Nui Marine Mammal Response Coordinator
Nov. 1: Allison Borell, Community Outreach and Education Liaison for East Maui Watershed Partnership and Field Staff n
Hui No‘eau Arts Center
2841 Baldwin Ave.
Open daily 9am – 4pm
Photos by Bryan Berkowitz