I was recently given the opportunity to head to Oahu, Hawai'i to be a part of POW!WOW! Hawai'i's celebration of 10 years of the POW!WOW! mural festival. While Covid-19 did it's fair share to keep any POW!WOW!'s from happening in it's usual capacity (Rotterdam hosted, but only local artists with no international presence), 2021 saw the organization's inclusion at The Bishop in a retrospection of all things POW!WOW!
Curated by founder Jasper Wong, POW! WOW! The First Decade: From Hawaiʻi to the World showcases some of the most notable Hawai‘i-based artists, international street artists, and sculptors. Wong managed to round up over 160 artists for the museum exhibition, and 30 artists to participate in person on site-specific murals. These murals were created by internationally renowned artists like Cryptik, Hueman, Tristan Eaton, Andrew Schoultz, Persue, Kevin Lyons, Amy Sol, How Nosm, CRASH, Greg Mike, and many others. View works by local muralists including OG Slick, Solomon Enos, Carl Pao, Cory Taum, Woes, Hula, and Wooden Wave. Within the gallery space will be a series of over 120 new 2’x2’ paintings by international and local artists, curated by Andrew Hosner of Thinkspace and Jasper Wong.
Since it first began in 2010, POW!WOW! has cultivated a reputation of creating an "ohana", a family, within its network. Artists come to a city and work alongside locals and volunteers to create free art for the public, along with participating in lectures, talks and tours to ensure the locals are included. Hawai'i was the very first location after Jasper Wong conceived of the idea while in Hong Kong. While POW! WOW! shares the name of the Native American pow wow gathering, the festival's name originates combining the "Pow" of comic book action bubbles with the "WOW" of a reader's reaction.
The fact that a festival bases on street culture is able to take over an entire building of a cultural museum speaks volumes about the longevity of the Graffiti and Street Art culture. CRASH, one of the credited cultural advisors of the exhibition, is quoted "seeing all this, we could not comprehend how big this movement would become. We were kids going out there trying to be heard; if you could not hear our cries, you were going to see our names all over the city". That sentiment captures the atmosphere of the exhibition perfectly; doing art for the love if it, and seeing the evolution of it and its participants and supporters.
Hueman greets you right at the entrance of the exhibition building. Her HUGE work on the facade is a smack in the face and a promise of things to come once inside. Her bright HUES and sheer scale are a powerhouse of a greeting. And it's not lost on viewers that the largest piece was created by a petite woman. CRASH, one of the OG's represented in the exhibition was given a textured corner of space to paint on. Faux brick and store-front gates were the canvas for his colorful explosions that faded into tags of all local Hawaiian artists on the front of the bodega constructed inside (which serves as POW!WOW!'s shop). Tristan and Matt Eaton, just around the corner, created a colorful explosion of patterns and faces of Hawaiian locals. Walking past the gallery exhibition put together by Thinkspace, you find tucked away a phenomenal piece by Aaron De La Cruz. His fusion of minimalism and scale and texture really is a delight to see and break up the fields of color everywhere else in the exhibition. And as you walk away from De La Cruz, you encounter one of the most complex pieces in the museum--a mural by twin artists HOW NOSM. Their original color palette of black, white and red (originally done as a necessity because those colors and readily available in almost any hardware and art supply store and inexpensive) has evolved to include shades of purples, pinks, grays and even pops of yellow. The intricate detail of intertwining figures tells many tales, if the viewer chooses to get lost inside of them.
If there is any way you can get to Hawai'i to see this exhibition, I highly encourage you to. I know it is from a profound place of privilege that I was able to go and not only see it in person, but get to experience the installation and creation process. It is incredibly humbling to be invited to see an art form so many of us have treasured and supported getting its due in the form of museum recognition. And it is even cooler to see that come in the way of a local organization like POW!WOW! to be celebrated, as well.