The power of native arts was present and palpable at the Pacific Club on May 8 as the board of the national organization, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, (NACF) gathered with friends and well-wishers for the first time in Honolulu.
Board Chair Marshall McKay, also the chairman of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, spoke of the arts as “a way of remembering.” He recalled watching his mother, renowned basket-maker Mabel McKay (Pomo/Wintun), at the table weaving and learning through her what was going on in the community. The arts, he said, are “like a layer of sediment in the mountain, always telling a story, helping us understand our differences and our similarities.”
Recognition of that vital function of Native arts and cultures, said McKay, is what prompted the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation to step up and support the work of the Native-led foundation from its inception. Another NACF board member: Chandra Hampson (Ho-Chunk/Anishinaabe), a
consultant and former Senior Vice President in Community Development Finance and Banking.
President and CEO, Lulani Arquette spoke of the excitement of bringing the NACF board to Honolulu on the eve of the launch of the Hokule’a on its epic voyage round the world . She pointed out that a visionary artist, Herb Kane, was one of the designers, builders, and first captains of the original Hokule`a in 1975. Through his over 400 paintings, many of which were historic depictions of ocean-going canoes, Kane’s creativity and artistry helped inspire appreciation for Polynesian navigation and care of the ocean. An extraordinary Hawaiian cultural revival and renewal of pride sprang forth that informed and inspired future leadership that continues to this day.
Arquette announced that NACF had provided over $350,000 in grants to Native Hawaiian awardees. Each of the NACF Fellows then spoke to those present at the gathering either in person or via a video message. It was “show and tell” of the kind to which the only appropriate response seemed to be “Wow!” Micah Kamohoali`i, sprang to the podium with a promise: “I will tell you who I am!
And then this recognized artist who traces his genealogy to the Pele clan and the shark people of Waipi‘o Valley, proceeded to tell everyone who he is through a powerful chant. He also unfurled a piece of the kapa that his family still makes the traditional way, pounding it out painstakingly and coloring it with natural plant dyes.
The closest the audience could get to Kaili Chun’s large scale installations that night was through the images flashed on screen. But she was present to express her
appreciation for how the NACF award has helped sustain her efforts to help
us all be more mindful and better stewards of the constantly changing world we live in.
Slack key master Keola Beamer was not there in person. But his presence on-screen, as he spoke to the audience apparently from “behind bars” in a mock jail, drew laughs, even as he spoke of freeing himself through music to contribute to the voyage of aloha around the world. “Malama Ko Aloha” (Keep Your Love) is a lesson learned from his mother, “a way of being in the world” –and the title of the album that the NACF award allowed him to take on tour.
Speaking via an onscreen message did not diminish the excitement that another 2014 Native Hawaiian NACF Fellow felt about being able to return to the islands. Patrick Makuakane spoke of the value of reconnecting to his roots in the home of hula and once again re-immersing himself in the history and culture that will inspire his innovative hula as it has done before.
From the Hawaiian creation story, Kumulipo, through Darwin’s theory of evolution, slam poet Kealoha Wong brought the evening to a close with a dramatic performance preview of a community inspiration project he is developing in partnership with NACF. He was accompanied by Kumu Hula Victoria Holt Takamine and Kumu Hula Jeff Takamine. Kealoha’s masterful, high energy interweaving of science and
the kind of knowledge that is passed down through the creative arts left him–
and the audience– breathless with the questions it raised. And keyed up for the answers yet to come.
Kapulani Landgraf (Native Hawaiian, 2013 NACF Visual Arts Fellow) took photo above of Micah Kamohoali’i.