To mark the anniversary of the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the museum presents “ʻAuʻa”, Kapulani Landgraf’s powerful installation of large photographic portraits of 108 Kānaka ‘Ōiwi community leaders bearing these words from Dr. Haunani-Kay Trask’s historic 1993 speech: We Are Not American He Hawaiʻi Mau a Mau. The exhibition is on display through September 15. Regular adult admission $20, Hawai‘i Resident $10. Children 18 and under FREE. More info: Honolulu Museum of Art | Honolulu Museum of Art
* Like many words in ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi, the term ʻauʻa is layered with meaning. One of its definitions is to hold fast. The word also refers to an ʻōpelu fish that is larger and more visible than others in the school. When an ʻauʻa is seen by fishermen, they know that a school is nearby, but that this particular fish will refuse to be caught.
Background on the importance of ʻAuʻa
The 100th anniversary commemorations of the American-backed, unlawful overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom were a watershed in Kānaka ‘Ōiwi (Indigenous Hawaiians aka Kānaka Maoli) political consciousness. The 1993 observances were punctuated by an historic speech by scholar, poet, and political leader Dr. Haunani-Kay Trask (1949–2021). More than ten thousand people gathered on the grounds of ‘Iolani Palace to hear Trask’s proclaim: “We are not American. We are not American. We are not American.”
Along with the oli (chant) that gives Landgraf’s work its title, Trask’s words reverberate throughout Landgraf’s monumental installation. The work features large photographic portraits of 108 Kānaka ‘Ōiwi community leaders from diverse professions and backgrounds, all willing to have their image overlaid with the words, “We Are Not American He Hawaiʻi Mau a Mau.” Asserting the unbroken continuity of Hawaiian sovereignty and national identity, the text—like the work—stands as a challenge to reckon with both Kānaka and American settler identities in light of the ongoing colonization and occupation of these islands.
Landgraf’s work encourages us to reflect on those who withhold their political affiliation from the United States. Though each person’s decision to participate in ʻAuʻa was an individual one, for the artist, “The work is about lāhui, a collective voice and a collective conviction to correct the wrong.” Landgraf says, “And even though there are just 108 people represented, there are thousands there, representing generations upon generations of our ancestors and our future descendants.”
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