SMALL TOWN * BIG ART Unveiled Public Paintings by Maui-Based Avi Molinas
SMALL TOWN * BIG ART unveiled its latest public art in Wailuku: large-scale replicas of three oil painted portraits by Maui-based artist Avi Molinas.
The painted portraits of Wailuku icons Hōkūlani Holt, Judge Noa (Auwae) Kepoikai and Rose (Daniels) Kepoikai will be on view at the First Hawaiian Bank Wailuku Branch, facing Market Street, now through March 2021.
Molinas’ original intent was to install the work at Hale Hōʻikeʻike at the Bailey House Museum, where visitors and community members could spend time with the paintings and “learn more about the everyday lives of the people who are indigenous to this land.”
“I am interested in this opportunity because I value the Hawaiian culture and want to help perpetuate the history and stories of the people of Hawaiʻi,” Molinas said in a statement.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a shift in how the work would engage the public, as was the case with the most recent SMALL TOWN * BIG ART features with Eric Okdeh (who painted the mural Ma kāhi o ka hana he ola malaila at the Main Street Promenade in October) and Michael Takemoto (who led Wailuku’s ʻAlalā Renaissance in November).
“Community engagement is a top priority for SMALL TOWN * BIG ART,” program lead Kelly McHugh-White said. “Each public art project undergoes a period of collaborative development where we determine how the public can learn from, contribute to and continue the dialogue that a work of art may inspire.
“Because we can’t be asking folks to gather at the museum to interact with the work and with one another, we opted to supersize the paintings, find a local partner to display them towards the streets of Wailuku, and create a short film to get the momentum flowing for conversation and continual sharing.”
That local partner is Dean Duque of First Hawaiian Bank, who met with McHugh-White earlier this year to gain a better understanding of the program’s goals.
“My colleague Joanne Stevenson and I both admired the intention to not only share history and culture with our community, but to create a platform to learn from the community as well,” said Duque, the bank’s Senior Vice President & Maui Region Manager. “We know that the team worked closely with Aunty Wallette Pellegrino on their last project and that each artist connects their work with an ʻōlelo noʻeau. We appreciate the program’s connection to First Hawaiian Bank’s core values of Caring, Character and Collaboration.”
Large-scale replicas of Molinas’ three portraits each have a link to learn more about the work and to share perspectives on the concept of “legacy,” which is touched upon in a short film about the artwork.
“Legacy, truly for me, is my ‘ohana,” said portrait subject Hōkūlani Holt, a Maui-based kumu hula and Hawaiian cultural/language specialist. “I have halau, I have hula, I’ve had many students, but it’s your children that will carry on what you hope you have instilled in them. Legacy is not only what you do, but it’s where you call you, where you call your identification to ‘āina.
“What I hope people will say when I die, is that she was tremendously proud to be Hawaiian and she was tremendously proud to be from Maui.”
Hayden Aluli, the great grand-nephew of subjects Judge Noa Auwae Kepoikai and his wife Rose (Daniels) Kepoikai – each born in the 1860s – said: “I think portraying our ancestors that have come and passed is a connection that we have as a younger generation to remind us of where we come from. To see these Hawaiian faces, now, in Wailuku, is just an inspiration as for me to be Hawaiian and to want to live up to their legacy and try to contribute with the work that we do as Hawaiians for our community.”
To learn more about the work or to share your own mana’o on legacy, visit https://www.smalltownbig.org/avi.html.