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50 states of art

Essay: A Hawaiian Artist Confronts the Lasting Legacy of Colonialism | #50StatesofArt

Drew Broderick discusses the legacy and long-term effects of colonialism in the Pacific.
All images courtesy the artist

As part of 50 States of Art, Creators is inviting artists to contribute first-person accounts of what it is like to live and create in their communities. Drew Broderick lives and works in Honolulu, Hawai'i. He is the founder and director of SPF Projects and a contributing member of PARADISE COVE.

At its best, Hawai'i's art community reflects a multi-ethnic heritage as well as a critical desire to confront the legacy of colonialism that plays out in the present day against the people, land, and natural resources of the islands. For many long-time Hawai'i artists, there is an acceptance of a place where the market is not a priority. This is important work, hard work, work that must be done in the face of personal and economic sacrifice and the growing lack of institutional support, despite near-constant development and a booming tourist economy.


At its worst, Hawai'i's art community is dated and alienating: full of the racist undertones and an underlying bitterness stemming from a lack of opportunities. Artists here can be unapologetically territorial. "Watufaka!" Given the whitewashed colonial injustices committed against Hawai'ians and throughout the Pacific, does it really come as a surprise? Meanwhile, artists trying to make a living face tremendous pressure to conform to touristic expectations and often end up sacrificing their vision to produce uninspired tropical seascapes or "designed by committee" public commissions for the state. Neither promotes meaningful engagement. Some artists go for broke and move to "the mainland," never to be seen or heard from again. Some move home to surf or start a career, when they are jaded and tired, in their 40s. The rest just stop.

Death of Captain James Cook (After George Carter), 2012

I was born and raised on the island of Oʻahu. The ocean is ever-present. I live and work in Honolulu, but everyone here just calls it Town. I care about making work that confronts issues important to the people of Hawai'i—work that can also be appreciated, not simply fetishized and collected, by audiences from elsewhere. A couple years back, I ran a small venue for contemporary art in Kakaʻako called SPF Projects. It failed by business standards, but to me, it was completely worth it. After two years, I put on a garage sale show as a final gesture, partially for fun and partially out of the practical need to get rid of stuff. By the end, all that was left were the experiences and connections—good, bad, and in between—that had been shared by people who had come out in support of contemporary art in Hawai'i. If Hawai'i's art community is about anything, it's about relationships.


Installation view, Hōʻailona (NO HOME/GO HOME), 2013

Despite the abundance of sunlight in the islands, local artists are often underexposed and always deserving of more attention on a national and global level. A lack of dedicated exhibition venues coupled with minimal institutional support, especially for younger local artists, has created a unique set of challenges for showing and sharing work within our community. Often it comes down to putting together shows of your work and your friends' work and your friends' friends' work whenever and wherever you can. It's a small island; people show up. We have so much to share. Kapulani Landgraf, Gaye Chan, Lawrence Seward, Keith Tallett, Bradley Capello, Marika Emi, and Uluwehi Kang are all at different stages in their respective careers, putting out a wide range of work that touches on fundamental aspects of life in Hawai'i. I am always excited to see them, talk about art and Hawai'i, and part ways with new opinions and ideas.

Installation view, 50th State, 2014

History is fiction. Everything flows from this understanding, especially in Hawai'i. This place has been mandated from a distance to affirm the moral and legal validity of a people's and a country's otherwise entirely criminal intentions and actions. We know it all too well. It's the story of the world: a claim, a fence, the illusion of ownership. The sovereignty of the land is perpetuated in righteousness. Authorship is overrated. By my hand, it is not mine. It is yours, too. It is ours. Responsibility is shared. Whatevahs… it's an island thing.


Installation view, PARADISE COVE 1.0, 2015

All year, we're highlighting 50 States of Art projects around the United States. This month, we're covering Illinois, Indiana, South Carolina, North Dakota, and Hawai'i. To learn more, click here.


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