The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) was thrilled to present several events featuring National and Regional Artist Fellows during opening weekend of the Honolulu Biennial 2019, March 8-10. Attendees expressed a strong interest in Indigenous art, and the excitement for these events was palpable.
At the Opening Ceremony, 2018 NACF National Artist Fellow Allison Akootchook Warden performed several cornerstones from her dynamic song list, including “Ancestor from the Future” and the catchy singalong, “Oh, Where Did All the Ice Go?”. The Honolulu audiences were treated to the voice of an Iñupiaq person within the confines of the tropical Pacific, speaking to the seemingly distant effects of polar melting in the continental north. The juxtaposition was provocative and inspiring.
The following day, a Gallery Walkthrough featured the work of NACF Fellows at the Honolulu Museum of Art (HOMA), one of the major exhibiting sites of the Biennial. Moderated by NACF’s Reuben Roqueñi, Director of National Artist Fellowships and HOMA’s Healoha Johnston, Curator of Hawaiian Art, audiences were treated to an insightful dialogue with the artists about their work. Participating in the conversation were 2011 NACF Artist Fellow Marie Watt (Seneca), whose exhibit piece, Companion Species (Speech Bubble), was stitched during a series of open sewing circles throughout the country and explores the intersections between community engagement, political issues and personal agency; and 2013 NACF National Artist Fellow Kapulani Landgraf (Native Hawaiian), whose work in the museum, Au’a, Kā’elo, is an installation made up of more than one hundred portraits of Native Hawaiian leaders. Superimposed over every face is the phrase “We are not American – He Hawaii au mau a mau”, which means “I am Hawaiian forever and ever”. This phrase is drawn from an infamously impassioned speech by the Native Hawaiian activist, Haunani-Kay Trask. Other NACF Fellows being exhibited at the museum are 2017 NACF Mentor Artist Fellow Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit) and the artist collective Postcommodity.
“Companion Species (Speech Bubble)”, Reclaimed wool blankets, embroidery floss, thread, Marie Watt, 2019
Allison Akootchook Warden, Lulani Arquette, Reuben Roqueñi
Honolulu Biennial 2019 Co-Curator, Nina Tonga
On the last day of the opening events, NACF presented a panel of three NACF Fellows being exhibited at the Biennial. The conversation focused on Native Hawaiian artists working at the cross-overs between the arts, the environment and social justice efforts in Indigenous communities throughout Hawaiian Islands. Moderated by NACF’s Reuben Roqueñi, the conversation explored the work of Kapulani Landgraf; 2015 NACF Native Hawaiian Artist Bernice Akamine, whose installations Ku’u One Hānau were exhibited throughout the Biennial sites and call attention to the rising rates of houselessness among Native Hawaiians in their own Homeland; and 2015 NACF Native Hawaiian Artist Maika’i Tubbs, whose work Toy Stories teeters on the philosophical divide between trash and treasure.
NACF’s support for these artists on international platforms seeks to create narrative change around critical issues that affect Indigenous people throughout the US. The participation of this creative cohort in the Honolulu Biennial 2019, serves as a catalyst for these imperative conversations, demonstrating the empowered voices and resiliency of Native artists and Native communities.