Envisioning Kānaka Art on a Parking Garage Wall


By Johanna Kamaunu

In 2021, I was standing on Market Street in Wailuku Town gazing upon the vista of Iao Valley as the sun set when a thought interrupted my reverie: This will all be gone.

That view will be blocked by a four-story building. A parking lot. A few have gathered to offer pule and protocol for the iwi kūpuna (ancestral bones) discovered during construction grading.

In Wailuku, burials are expected, but not usually in developed areas. This was different. The atmosphere at this vigil was more reflective. Why had this iwi kūpuna come forward now? The town has been built over for generations. Who is this and how did they come to be here?

At the vigil, conversation moved towards nurturing the preservation sites, sharing that practice with the community, and modeling ways to mālama iwi kūpuna. We then began to imagine art work on the exterior of the four-story parking garage reflective of iwi kūpuna throughout Wailuku Moku, significant, resonant, timeless. What an honor that would be.

Having served on the Maui Lānaʻi Island Burial Council (MLIBC) for nearly eight years, I’ve witnessed the devastation of Kānaka burial sites. MLIBC supports protection, yet is hindered by HRS 6e – the very law intended to protect iwi kūpuna. HRS 6e supports mitigation and consultation, it doesn’t enforce compliance or execute penalties. It shackled descendancy claims to consulting compromise. It failed to protect.

Perhaps art can be an answer to the four-story parking lot. Kānaka art is nearly invisible in Wailuku Town, with few images of our ancient past or historic landscape. Such depictions, through the installation of Kānaka art on the wall of the parking lot, might be an adventurous response.

In 2021, there was no interest in the building from a local art organization. And the county planned to hide the drab parking lot behind surrounding buildings. Fast forward to July 2023. Both the Maui County Planning Department and the art organization want art on the building.

The challenge is how best to work with an art organization that is a county-approved vendor with a different focus. Patience. The process is complex and applicants must have a resume, business verification, skill and execution assurances, and maybe insurance.

To all Kānaka ʻoiaʻiʻo – Kānaka born, raised and minded – prepare for the call for art. These iwi kūpuna have a message and are waiting for you to give it voice. The concept and design will be the first call. It has been growing in you. The call for the artisan(s) and medium will follow.

Do you want to be part of a groundbreaking project? To see a drab parking structure become an iconic beacon of art, culture, and a memorial to our kūpuna? To support the vision of Kānaka artists and create a Kānaka art brand for Wailuku? Let’s connect!

Johanna Kamaunu lives in Waiheʻe Valley with her kāne, Kaniloa, and their extended ʻohana. Both are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and founding members of Hui Pono Ike Kanawai. Johanna served on the Maui Lānaʻi Island Burial Council and on the ʻAha Moku o Wailuku, executive council as the land committee chair. If you are an interested in learning more about this project, contact Johanna at johannakamaunu@gmail.com.