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Apr 06, 2016

Making Contact

Photos by Mark Ramelb

Maile Meyer has been an advocate for the arts in Hawai‘i for most of her life.

Through her Ward Village storefront, Nā Mea Hawai'i, she has curated and showcased a litany of work from local artists and all things Native Hawaiian, as well as created a hub for creatives to congregate. In addition to her work at Nā Mea, Maile has also been an instrumental figure in progressing contemporary art in Hawai'i. For the past three years, she has tirelessly worked to create and organize the city's annual CONTACT exhibit, housed at the Hawaiian School of Modern Art. CONTACT explores the different iterations of its namesake, raising new questions each year about how Hawai'i's relationships to itself and the outside world has changed as we were exposed to different events. The current exhibit, which runs until April 17 at the Honolulu Museum of Art School, seeks to navigate the ideas of Foreign and Familiar and how they have shaped the culture and people of Hawai'i.


Can you tell me about your role in Contact?

I am a descendent of a woman who was very involved in community-based art. I have people in my family who have supported the arts in Hawai'i for generations and it's my role to continue supporting art in the community through my store, Mea, and exhibits like CONTACT

How would you describe CONTACT?

CONTACT is an opportunity for people to get a sense of what's happening in Hawai'i through contemporary art. The theme this year is focused on the concept of foreign and familiar and how these two ideas are interconnected into Hawai'i today. The show is coming from a relationship-based place, so the concepts and interpretations of these themes are going to be different for every artist. It holds a narrative of Native Hawaiians and local people who have come and gone and how they see Hawai'i and how the outside world sees them.

Where did the inspiration for this year's show come from?

The concept for Foreign and Familiar actually arose from our gallery manager, John Tengan, who is from Hawai'i but had been living in London for a few years. It was his experiences there—where people would ask him these stereotypical questions about Hawai'i and coconuts and things like that—compared to the Hawai'i he really knew that helped to inspire this year's theme of Foreign and Familiar. We then took that concept and opened it up to artists and encouraged them to create a dialogue through their art and ask questions about this theme. We have some truly amazing pieces on display and I would encourage anyone interested to go to the exhibit and see it first hand.

CONTACT is an annual exhibit with different themes each year. Can you talk about last year's show

Last year, we worked around a theme based on the work of John Dominis Holt, an influential native Hawaiian writer, and how he touched off the Hawaiian renaissance. The period was meant to focus on the tumultuous years between the 1890s and the 1930s. These were intense times in Hawaii and a lot of the art reflected that intensity. I remember receiving a letter from a woman who said how angry and how much hate there was in this exhibit and how she basically hated it. I was actually glad to hear that she felt that way, because the art was making her feel something, which is important in art. We want to ask tough questions through art, hard questions. It's not supposed to be literal. There are no answers, just questions.

What's in store for CONTACT next year?

We recently announced that next year we will focus on the idea of Hawai'i in the year 3017. It's hard to imagine what Hawai'i would be like 1,000 years from now! We're trying to push ideas forward. What could it look like? When we announced it, you could see all of the artists who were there turn their heads up toward the sky and begin pondering the concept. It's going to be exciting to see this concept come to life.

What do you hope to achieve from this show as a whole?

For me, there isn't enough opportunity to see conceptual art in Hawai'i. We don't need literal art. I don't want to tell people what they should or shouldn't experience. I want people to go to one of our exhibits and open themselves up to seeing something new. To use their imagination and creativity. We want people to feel things and experience art in their own interpretation.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I believe it's fundamental that art in Hawai‘i be representative of multiple generations. I don't want to see a gallery full of elderly people. We all have to be intergenerational and we need to get young people involved so we can all learn more together. Jonh Tengan, our gallery manager who helped inspire this year's theme, is only 22 and I'm in my late 50s. We need more of that. We need to work with people outside of our comfort zones and I think contemporary art is a great license for that model.

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