The Hui No`eau is one place I like to go Upcountry to surround myself with nature and art. It’s my happy place–welcoming, comforting and free. This month and next they’re featuring their annual Malama Wao Akua art show, presented jointly by the Hui No`eau and the East Maui Watershed Partnership. This show invited the public to submit works of art on native species and conservation efforts, and includes students from elementary, middle and high schools. The result is the 88 works that make up the 13th Malama Wao Akua. It’s all about seeing conservation through the lens of local artists of all ages.
I dig that a lot of the creators are immortalizing the last of certain species. Even better, the artist statements shed light on where they’re coming from. Reading these will give you chicken skin moments as you walk through the show. Many artists were moved by our native birds and their future, plants and animals of all sorts, and wanted to highlight certain species.
Gabrielle Anderman’s “When There Were Only 22” is a large acrylic and charcoal work near the entrance to the show. Her painting, selected as a juror’s choice, shows 23 ‘alala shrouded under a swirling mist of white.
“The Hawaiian crow, also known by its Hawaiian name, ‘alala, is one of the most critically endangered birds in the world,” Anderman writes in her statement. “At one point there were only twenty-two ‘alala in the wild, which then declined to just two birds in 2002 and today is now extinct in the wild. Efforts to increase the wild population through the release of captive reared birds are underway but have so far been unsuccessful. This piece pays homage to the bird and is a reminder that the species could easily disappear.”
The native bird species stamp collection by Elizabeth Keller is intricate, and even playful. Rebecca Lewis’ Hawaiian Stilt sculpture flying overhead is really cool. I fell for Shelby Sales’ embroidered on black ‘Akohekohe in the high school division.
Another popular theme was fauna. Beautiful landscapes and interpretations of koa, ohia, fern, lichens, seeds, palm and silversword are all depicted. The watercolor by Kathleen Alexander depicting native Hawaiian palms from the Merwin palm garden is special. But it’s the story of the Kokia Cookei in the pendant jewelry made by Sunny Jordan that gave me pause. It was an excerpt from a Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) statement on the last known tree on Molokai in 1910, perhaps even one of the original species. From this tree, seeds were collected and unsuccessful attempts were made to plant it. The story of the struggle goes on, discovering one at a residence, a fire, a rescue and a graft. It reminds me how precious these rare plant lives are, and that we have been trying to save and preserve these for hundreds of years. The pendant is a gorgeous representation of the bright pink flower.
The ocean creatures, insects, worms, moths and butterflies were not lost on these makers either. The butterfly specimen box had a whimsy in three dimensions. Debra Lumpkin’s ‘ohiki is a tiny delicate crab done by applying the paints and inks to the body of the animal and then transferring that to the canvas. I really liked Jack Hamilton’s acrylic on canvas painting because he tied it to the big bang.
“The title, ‘Hawaiian Spotted Flatworm: The Journey’ refers to the journey taken from the beginning of the universe to finally becoming a species on Maui,” he writes. “The painting includes the Big Bang, the formation of the stars, the solar system, the Earth, the Hawaiian Islands, the seascape, the DNA of the species, and the unique life form landing on Maui after its 14 billion year journey!”
Bryan Berkowitz’s photograph on metal entry, titled “Higashino Hands,” highlights the hard work of conservation in all of its natural beauty. It’s outstanding. I’m familiar with Berkowitz’s photojournalism (he shot the images for this show used in this story), but glimpsing his artistic eye in this piece brings his work to another level. The photograph of the hands of Paul Higashino of the Kaho`olawe Island Reserve Commission, showing proper planting techniques of the ‘aki ‘aki grass, is hard and gentle. The sunwashed colors of the sand, skin and tool provide the perfect backdrop for the contrast of the grass and Higashino’s long red sleeve. It’s no wonder this piece won the show’s Conservation at Work award.
The Malama Wao Akua show continues through Nov. 7. It’s open daily at the Hui No`eau from 9am to 4pm with free admission. Talk story Thursdays run 5-6pm with special guests. On Oct. 5 there’s Dan Eisenberg, the East Maui Watershed Partnership Program Manager. On Oct. 19 there’s Pat Bily, Science Specialist II for The Nature Conservancy – Maui Office. And on Nov. 2 there’s Dr. Art Medeiros of the Auwahi Forest Restoration Project. Proceeds from the show’s sales go toward local conservancy efforts.
2841 Baldwin Ave., Makawao
Photos: Bryan Berkowitz