Hawaii Blossoms into a Paradise for Street Art

Hawaiian muralist and graffito John "Prime" Hina talks about how he lives by the spray can to preserve his Polynesian heritage.

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Feb 22 2017, 9:28pm

Images courtesy the artist

This article originally appeared on Creators.

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. John "Prime" Hina is a Hawai'ian graffiti legend who runs 808 Urban, an organization that mentors at-risk youth.

I'm an artist of Polynesian descent, born in Samoa and raised in Hawai'i. I have experienced the similarities and differences of both cultures as well as our Pacific island cousins.

Hawai'i is unique in many ways. Aside from the tropical landscapes and pristine beaches, our way of living on the islands since time immemorial has taken the term "sustainability" up a notch to "prosperity" where everything thrives. Thanks to the many traditions preserved by our kupuna (elders), our future lives on despite the fact that we are still illegally "occupied" by the US. Today, the symptoms of an oppressed kingdom can be seen in our education system, prison system, legal justice system, government and so on, yet we continue to live ALOHA.

Until recently, we didn't have a way to celebrate the visual arts outside of the institutions. Then came street art festival POW! WOW! Hawai'i and the art scene exploded! It served as a great platform for our local traditional artists to share our culture with the rest of the world.

Some of my favorites are Solomon Enos, Meleana Myer, Naia Lewis, Carl Pao, Brook Parker, Haley Kailiehu, Kaiʻili Kaulukukui, Kamehana o kala, Wendall Kahoʻohalahala, Kuhaʻo Zane and countless others for keeping our stories alive. I also need to shout out the writing crews for keeping the streets in check: EV, UK, AF, TE, NWB, MOK, BS, 24K.

Last, but not least, my students that I have had the pleasure of mentoring and are now the leaders of 808 Urban. Jesse Velasquez, Kealakukui Mahoney, Beethoven Sausal, Ralph Dela Cruz, James Davis. My point is, Hawai'i has so many gems undiscovered.

In 2007, I created 808 Urban, a Hawai'ian Arts Organization dedicated to mentoring youth through visual arts programming and community development through place based learning. One of the major issues for organizations like ours is funding. But weʻve been fortunate to stay afloat over the past 10 years.

A story about why I created this organization: My son comes home from school with his sister and a bunch his friends. He asks me permission to paint our garage and of course I said yes without further questioning. 15 minutes later, I smell spray paint seeping through my garage door so I go to check. Lo and behold, I find everyone tagging up the walls! You can imagine how pissed I was, but not for the reason you might think.

Basically, I was upset at how much their tags sucked! I immediately get into what it meant to be a "writer" and my attempts to make them understand kept failing. So I took their spray cans and put up a quick piece. By this time, my kids are in total shock at what they had just witnessed. Then my son asks me,ʻdad, how do you know about this stuff?!" And I replied,"Boy, I was there from Day One."

Since then, hundreds of students have gone through my program and I've been privileged to watch them grow over the years.

See more of John "Prime" Hina's work on the 808 Urban Instagram account.

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 Hawaii. To learn more, click here.

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