Hawai‘i Triennial 2022 Emphasizes Local Culture in a Global Exhibition
Installation view of Hawai‘i Triennial 2022, Royal Hawaiian Center, 2022. Photo by Lila Lee. Courtesy of Hawai‘i Contemporary.
The running theme for the 2022 Hawai‘i Triennial is outreach. After two successful iterations as a biennial in 2017 and 2019, the survey exhibition, which is presented by Hawai‘i Contemporary, returned as a triennial in 2022 with a city-wide exhibition curated by Dr. Melissa Chiu and associate curators Dr. Miwako Tezuka and Drew Kahu‘āina Broderick. The hiatus since the 2019 biennial afforded the exhibition more space and time to critically consider the role of the local and the global in cultural conversations across Hawai‘i. This is evident with the title of the exhibition, “Pacific Century – E Ho‘omau no Moananuiākea,” the first time the exhibition’s title is in Hawaiian.
“Pacific Century – E Ho‘omau no Moananuiākea” features two key Hawaiian expressions merged together: ho‘omau, which translates to “perseverance,” and moananuiākea, which means “Pacific,” the oceanic body that Hawai‘i is located within. The exhibition catalogue is bilingual, with texts in both English and Hawaiian. The use of the Hawaiian language prioritizes the local community of Hawai‘i among the global audience who will be attending the exhibition. This emphasis speaks to the motives of the exhibition as a whole: to reestablish Hawai‘i as a key link across intercultural, global exchange.
Momoyo Torimitsu, installation view of Somehow I Don’t Feel Comfortable, 2021 at Hawai‘i Triennial 2022, Royal Hawaiian Center. © Momoyo Torimitsu. Photo by Lila Lee. Courtesy of the artist and Hawai‘i Contemporary.
Site specificity is another point of exploration, as the exhibition takes place across seven institutions that vary in cultural practice: Bishop Museum, Foster Botanical Garden, Hawai‘i State Art Museum, Unexpected Encounters, Honolulu Museum of Art, Royal Hawaiian Center, and Hawaii Theater Center. Additionally, the Iolani Palace was used to open the triennial with a projection by Los Angeles–based artist Jennifer Steinkamp.
The chosen sites create a beautiful tension in the triennial from the use of state museums to the Royal Hawaiian Center, which is a shopping mall. Chiu described this occupation of space as practice that allows art to be everywhere. She further elaborated that it also reminded her of exhibition work she did across Asia and Oceania where in specific environments, shopping malls were used as exhibition sites because there were no neighboring museums.
Jennifer Steinkamp, installation view of Queen Lili‘uokalani, 2022, at Hawai‘i Triennial 2022, Iolani Palace. Photo by Leimaile. Courtesy of the artist and Iolani Palace.
The show opened with a public large-scale projection by Steinkamp at the Iolani Palace, entitled Queen Lili‘uokalani (2022), referencing Hawai‘i’s last sovereign monarch who was forced to abdicate the throne to U.S. forces in 1893. Steinkamp’s public activation features Queen Lili‘uokalani’s garden projected onto the Palace, redefining the space of her imprisonment as an intervention in the history of Hawai‘i. It is a sheer marvel that the Iolani Palace was not torn down as one of the few architectural remnants of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Interconnectedness across various cultural institutions is emphasized by the curators’ work in the triennial and their outside practices. This emerged in two key areas: the selection of artists and the framing of Hawai‘i to audiences. On the latter point, leading up to the triennial, associate curator Tezuka emphasized in the Hawai‘i Contemporary Art Summit how the exhibition was allowing her to unlearn harmful narratives of Hawai‘i as a paradise. For Chiu, unlearning the “paradise” narrative came through the collaborative process of working with the artists alongside Tezuka and Kahu‘āina Broderick, who is a native Hawaiian.
Portrait, from left to right, of Hawai‘i Triennial 2022 Curators, Drew Kahu‘āina Broderick, Melissa Chiu, and Miwako Tezuka at Hawai‘i State Art Museum, 2022. Photo by Brandyn Liu. Courtesy of Hawai‘i Contemporary.
But unlearning paradise has a precedent in Chiu’s practice, as evidenced by “Paradise Now?: Contemporary Art From the Pacific,” the 2004 exhibition she curated at the Asia Society and Museum in New York. To rethink Hawai‘i beyond the prism of leisure intervenes on what scholar Edward Said described as the Western imagination of Asia-Pacific Oceania made possible by colonial histories. Paraphrasing her colleague Kahu‘āina Broderick, Chiu further reiterated that “we acknowledge those who are with us and those who have been practicing in other places in this show” across social and climate justice.
The intricacies of these histories are further affirmed through the artist selection, which includes Theaster Gates, Ai Weiwei, Gaye Chan, and Momoyo Torimitsu, among others. Featuring both locally and globally established artists was a way to complicate how we typically view these artists and emphasize the influence of Asia-Pacific Oceanic territories’ culture on a global audience.
Chiu elaborated on this argument by pointing to Gates’s sculpture series of tarred vessels that he began in 2021, “Preservation Exercise.” These vessels see Gates work with Japanese ceramic traditions—infusing them with West African and Black American cultural and labor histories. Gates’s work is staged in the Japan gallery at the Honolulu Museum of Art. This staging not only affords audiences a different perspective of Gates’s practice that is underexamined by institutions and art historians, but also complicates his own practices of disrupting monolithic interpretations of Blackness and Japanese culture. The latter is both an exciting and necessary intervention to those representations.
Ai Weiwei, installation view of Tree, 2010, Iron Tree, 2020, and Tree, 2010 at Hawai‘i Triennial 2022, Foster Botanical Garden, 2022. © Ai Weiwei. Photo by Lila Lee. Courtesy of the artist and Hawai‘i Contemporary.
The Foster Botanical Garden is used as a site to respond in real time to the ecology of Asia-Pacific Oceania through Ai’s installation All Three Together (2010–22), which features a series of eroding trees made from iron and wood materials. Elsewhere, at Unexpected Encounters, Gaye Chan’s artistic practice sees her occupy sites in order to develop anarchistic methods to redistribute food resources to local communities, evident in her collaborative series “Eating in Public” (2003–present). Chan’s practice echoes native Hawaiians’ critiques of a tourist industry that erases their visibility and damages their communities.
Through all these critical points of tension, Chiu recommits to the triennial’s openness to being aware of misrepresentation and erasure across Hawai‘i’s history, culture, and ecology. Chiu asserts that knowing these tensions gives us a way to look at Hawai‘i that underscores histories of colonialism and how they continue to inform the way we see and understand Hawaiian culture. As Chiu described, the triennial solidifies the “local as the global imprint of the exhibition and intercultural relations.”