Using Art to Create a Space for Difficult Discussions About ʻŌiwi Representation


For the first time in 20 years, there is a large-scale exhibit of Kānaka ʻŌiwi-made art at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Art Gallery. The ʻAi Pōhaku, Stone Eaters exhibit features about 40 kānaka artists and is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. through March 26.

The exhibition includes the art gallery, bamboo grove and rooftop courtyard, and showcases different installations of all mediums from Hawaiian artists. Some artists utilize printing methods and others use literal plants as their art. There is so much to see and at every turn there is something new for viewers to appreciate.

This exhibit has been in the works since 2020 with the purpose of creating a space for hard discussions revolving around Native Hawaiian representation and displacement in Hawaiʻi, specifically in the UH system.

“The University of Hawaiʻi often talks about itself as a model Indigenous-serving institution, or a place of native Hawaiian learning,” said Curator Drew Kahuʻāina Broderick. “For us in the arts, like we don’t really see that; you don’t see it and we definitely don’t feel it.”

Co-curators Broderick, Noelle M. K. Y. Kahanu and Josh Tengan reached out to Kānaka Maoli artists they personally knew through family friends, recommendations, mentorships or the university in order to compile the list of artists featured. They handled all of the grants, programming, fundraising, labor and outreach in order to create this space to highlight the challenges and inequities kānaka face.

The name ʻAi Pōhaku, Stone Eaters is inspired by the mele ʻAi Pōhaku or as we know it today, Kaulana Nā Pua by Ellen Kekoaohiwaikalani Wright Prendergast. The song is symbolic of kānaka resistance against the post-overthrow “Provisional Government” and the willingness of the people to “eat stones” rather than to surrender.

“There is a line in the song ʻua lawa mākou i ka pōhaku, i ka ʻai kamahaʻo o ka ʻāina,’ [meaning] ‘we’re satisfied with the stones, the wondrous food of the land,’” said Tengan. “So the work at the center, or the piko, is really a literal interpretation of stone eating,“

The exhibit incorporates multiple areas; the piko is the living room space in which artist discussions are held every Sunday at 2:00 p.m. This space is meant for tackling hard topics, with artwork by Ipō and Kūnani Nihipali in the center symbolizing the healing process.

“Sort of like concentric circles that expand out from the center of the room,” Broderick said. “It helps us to connect the dots and talk more about it when we get there.”

One notable piece of artwork is on the first level of the exhibit entitled “E Hoʻokanaka!” by Kapulani Landgraf. This installation is a first iteration of the work and features photographs and quotes by kānaka from across all islands.

“I thought about how we remember and honor our Hawaiian leaders who sacrificed so much for our lāhui, and that is where the idea came from,” said artist Kapulani Landgraf.

Landgraf was invited by Broderick to participate in ʻAi Pōhaku, Stone Eaters. She spent countless hours of research in order to create this installation, including asking people for quotes from ʻŌiwi leaders, past and present, who inspired them with what they’ve done for the lāhui.

“This is a huge project, and in completing this installation for ʻAi Pōhaku, I knew I was missing many ʻŌiwi leaders and their important words that will not just inspire our lāhui now, but our future generations,” Landgraf said.

Landgraf’s installation is just one of the 46 powerful artworks at the exhibition for the community to come in, view, and have hard conversations centered on them. These kinds of conversations are vital to securing a better future with more kānaka representation on UH campuses.

“The hope is that by activating the system and the spaces that that system has to support clinical art, we can have a larger conversation about the lack of support,” Broderick said. “So in demonstrating our presence, we can talk about the absence, the exclusion, and the neglect that has taken place over the past 20 plus years,”

The curators hold weekly tours at 1:00 p.m. on Fridays and Sundays and all programming is free to the public without reservation. Parking on the UH Mānoa campus is free on Sundays.

For more information visit the exhibit’s website

ʻAi Pōhaku, Stone Eaters Exhibit

Artworks by nearly 40 Native Hawaiian artists, unfolding over eight months at six college and university venues, tell a story of Hawaiian contemporary art that began during the cultural reawakening of the 1970s.

January 22 – March 26
Wed–Sun, 12:00–4:00 p.m.
The Art Gallery, UH Mānoa

February 19 – August 13
Wed, 5:00–8:00 p.m.
Koa Gallery, Kapiʻolani Community College

March 5–April 2
Wed–Sun, 12:00–4:00 p.m.
Commons Gallery, UH Mānoa

March 31 – May 5
Sun–Mon, 1:00–5:00 p.m.
Gallery ʻIolani, Windward Community College

April 30 – August 13
Sun–Mon, 7:45 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
East-West Center Gallery, UH Mānoa

May 1 – August 25
Coming Soon
Hōʻikeākea, Leeward Community College