At its best, Hawai’i’s art community reflects a multi-ethnic heritage as well as a critical desire to confront the legacy of colonialism that plays out in the present day against the people, land, and natural resources of the islands. For many long-time Hawai’i artists, there is an acceptance of a place where the market is not a priority. This is important work, hard work, work that must be done in the face of personal and economic sacrifice and the growing lack of institutional support, despite near-constant development and a booming tourist economy.
At its worst, Hawai’i’s art community is dated and alienating: full of the racist undertones and an underlying bitterness stemming from a lack of opportunities. Artists here can be unapologetically territorial. “Watufaka!” Given the whitewashed colonial injustices committed against Hawai’ians and throughout the Pacific, does it really come as a surprise? Meanwhile, artists trying to make a living face tremendous pressure to conform to touristic expectations and often end up sacrificing their vision to produce uninspired tropical seascapes or “designed by committee” public commissions for the state. Neither promotes meaningful engagement. Some artists go for broke and move to “the mainland,” never to be seen or heard from again. Some move home to surf or start a career, when they are jaded and tired, in their 40s. The rest just stop.
The whole essay, part of 50 States of Art, is at The Creators Project, and excellent reading. There’s more to see, too!