Monumental mural honors Hawaiian legacy of water stewardship

Jamie Winpenny

KALIHI—A spectacularly vivid and colorful mural was unveiled Thursday at Honolulu Community College in Kalihi, a massive work nearly the length of a football field and reaching three stories high on the side of the JBL Hawaii warehouse on Kokea Street along Kapalama Stream.

The theme of the piece is Hawaii water rights and usage, dominated by the words “Flow Mauka to Makai” and a stunning portrait of Queen Liliuokalani.

Headed by renowned local artist John Hina, the mural project was a collaborative effort involving the work of 20 artists. Hina himself created the Queen’s familiar image, draped with flowing waters rather than the familiar regal sash of historical portraiture.

Although the mural was created by graffiti artists, a milieu that conjures images of the Martian scribblings of disaffected youth and urban blight, it represents a remarkable achievement in public art. The project intends to raise awareness about the importance of water use issues in Hawaii’s past, present, and future. It will.

In conceptualizing the piece, Hina says, “We got together and decided to check with the kupuna.” The result is a visually lyrical and compelling work of truly fine art that honors both tradition and change.

The project was spear-headed by Hawaii artist Estria, whom Hina says has a vision to create 10 such murals around the world with theme of the importance of water to community and culture. The mural is the third such work that is part of that vision.

Barbara Natale, Executive Director of Kalihi Ahupuaa Ulu Pono Ahahui (KAUPA), who is currently working with Hina on a mural at Kalihi Waena Elementary School, says “We’re thrilled. It will help invigorate the community about the environmental and cultural issues that KAUPA is committed to.”

Gov. Neil Abercrombie made an appearance at the unveiling, pressing the flesh and marveling at the sheer scope and impact of the giant work of art. He exchanged pleasantries with noted native Hawaiian activist Vicky Holt-Takamine and posed beneath the Queen’s portrait for a photo-op with Hina.

“I’m inspired,” Abercrombie said. “It makes you think about it in an integrated way.”

Abercrombie demonstrated a deft political savvy common among career politicians when pressed by an attendee about his signing of the Native Hawaiian Recognition Bill. He kept the focus of the event on the mural, politely refusing comment.

When asked about the recent Na Wai Eha court case developments regarding the drying of natural streams on Maui, Abercrombie would say only that his administration cannot comment on the specific case, but remains committed to implementing an “integrated water and land use policy.”

As beloved Hawaii entertainer Palani Vaughn entertained the dozens gathered before the stage, many more roamed the area, snapping pictures and recording the moment for posterity. It was a decidedly positive and supportive atmosphere.

Speaking casually about the process of creating the mural and the work behind it, artist Jonh Hina was candid and affable. When asked if he’ll need more refreshments for the artists on his next project, he was prophetic about the future of water use in Hawaii.

“Nah,” he smiled. “I’m just going to bring more straws.”