A sacred place – Auwahi

Hui No‘eau brings attention to one of last dry forests in Hawaii

Juried selections in the Hui No‘eau’s “Wahi Pana Auwahi” exhibit include clockwise from top left: “Nahunahu Rain” by Lisa Kasprzycki • “Call Me By My Song” by Eric Campbell Cameron • “Auwahi” by K I L L J O Y • “Glimmer of Hope” by Vicky Robinson • “Holumua” by Denby Freeland • “Pele’s Patience” by Tania Arens. Bonnie Friedman photos

Since 1997, a small, dedicated staff led by biologist Dr. Arthur Medeiros and more than 1,700 concerned volunteers have been collaborating — with the steadfast support of ‘Ulupalakua Ranch — to save one of the last remaining dry forests in Hawaii.

It is called Auwahi, located on the southwest slopes of Haleakala. And it is, most assuredly, a “wahi pana” or “sacred place.”

The Auwahi Forest Restoration Project is determined to bring it back to as close to its original eminence as possible; it is critical to the survival of numerous species, many of them culturally significant to Hawaiians.

The project is succeeding. To date, more than 125,000 native tree seedlings have been planted. Those new plantings, combined with the exclusion of grazing animals and control of invasive grasses, have led to a recovering forest environment over an increasingly larger area each year.

To bring attention to this effort, the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center in Makawao has opened its newest exhibition, Wahi Pana Auwahi. Juried by the Hui’s 2018 Artist in Residence, Mazatl, and his partner, K I L L J O Y, this exhibition runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Aug. 3.

Clockwise from left: “What Else is Hokulea in Now?” by Caroline Killhour • “Holei” by Ben Bowden • “Digesting the Future” by Vicky Robinson • “Alala” by Hui’s 2018 Artist in Residence, Mazatl • “We’re Better Together” by Brad Huck. Bonnie Friedman photos

Mazatl is an environmental and cultural crusader. Based in Mexico City, he is a graphic maker whose bold work is displayed mostly in public spaces, seeking to start “conversations towards collective liberation.”

He collaborates with likeminded artists, groups, collectives — such as the Justseeds Artist Cooperative — who use their work and artistic voices in the pursuit of social, political and environmental justice.

A first-time visitor to Hawaii, he visited Auwahi during his seven-week residency, during May and June, and produced work based on his experiences in the forest, including the massive mural he completed in the Hui’s history room. The Hui hopes to keep the mural in place for a year.

In order to be considered for inclusion in this exhibition, artists were required to attend at least one hike or restoration trip to Auwahi and/or an informational session with Medeiros. Twenty-three artists were chosen by Mazatl and K I L L J O Y to display their 10” x 10” pieces inspired by the sacred place. An additional 13 artists, personally selected by the Hui’s Executive Director Caroline Killhour and Exhibitions & Membership Coordinator Katie Peterson, were invited to participate in the show.

The exhibition is arranged into four sections: Auwahi Before Humans; Destruction of Auwahi; Auwahi, Wahi Pana for the People of Old; and Rebirth of Auwahi Through the Hands of the Community.

Happily, this last section — displayed in the room behind the main gallery — is the largest. And it leaves viewers with a bright vision of hope.

A large, provocative image by accomplished Maui artist Lisa Kasprzycki launches the opening section. “Nahunahu Rain: Hi’iaka and Lohiau make their way through Auwahi in the biting rain.”

Through the dashing painterly movement of the biting rain, Kaspryzycki’s work seems to meander through the organic lines and colors of a broadscape of the forest. She incorporates the human element in the forms of Hi’iaka and Lohiau. Are they searching for the freedom and respite offered by the forest? Does the single white blossom in the center of the work signify love?

Also in the opening section, Stephanie Sachs’ pair of o’o a’a birds is poignant. Titled “How Do We Heal Our Sense of Loss? (male & female),” you can listen to the last recorded call of a male searching for a mate, recorded on Kauai more than three decades ago.

One of the numerous species of Hawaiian honeycreepers, these birds are now, sadly, extinct. Sachs’ artist’s statement explains how she answered the question of the title for herself in a very personal way.

Nearby, Eric Campbell Cameron brings us another honeycreeper, the Kiwikiu, in his mixed media piece, “Call Me by My Song.” Perched in a golden tree, he may be contemplating a happier time. Today, the bird is critically endangered.

Two large-scale works depict the Destruction of Auwahi. A mixed media on wood by Kasprzycki is called “Falling and Falling Under The Same Sky: destruction of Auwahi.” Notable are the layers of form, texture and color relationships in different sections of the piece.

The other is a woodcut, spraypaint and watercolor diptych by Tania Arens. Titled “Pele’s Patience,” the fire goddess looks like she may be losing her patience. Perhaps she is angered by the unnatural destruction of the forest.

Two woodcut prints — very different in style and feel — anchor the Auwahi, Wahi Pana for the People of Old section. Killhour’s “What Else is Hokule’a in Now?” appears a star-studded forest.

K I L L J O Y’s “Auwahi” seems to be looking into the forest at night, populated with night creatures. Also represented in this section is Tom Calhoun’s beautifully carved and crafted fish hook, “Makau Kaku.” His artist’s statement stresses the importance of bridging the past with the future, and reminds us that progress is cumulative, every endeavor, small or large, counts.

A singular graphic print by Mazatl, ” ‘Alala,” hangs above the fireplace in the main gallery. The artist brings questions to the combination of symbols he depicts — a Hawaiian warrior of uncertain lineage in a fetal position inside the crow that holds a short twig in its beak.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the back room is the lightest and brightest exhibition space. The works displayed there make up the final section, Rebirth of Auwahi through the Hands of the Community. And they shine a light on what can be again.

Vicky Robinson’s “pueo,” or “owl,” gives us a “Glimmer of Hope” as it eyes the future of the forest. And her Japanese white-eye is “Digesting the Future” as it eats the seeds of the Kolea and then expels them to propagate more of these beautiful trees.

Denby Freeland honors the forest with her lovely kapa piece, “Holumua,” colorful with natural plant dyes.

Ben Bowden’s photo on canvas called “Holei,” depicts a small native tree with fragrant yellow flowers and yellow fruits. In the past, a yellow dye for kapa was made with its bark and roots. Perhaps, in the future, people will do so again.

In her watercolor, Rita Marlowe ponders whether “Auwahi’s Water Collector — Lichen” might have been helpful in the survival of the area’s few remaining plants by holding any moisture from the mists sweeping down the mountain. And Brad Huck proclaims “We’re Better Together” with his wooden blocks depicting plants, birds . . . and us.

For complete information about the Auwahi Forest Restoration Project, visit www.auwahi.org.

For more information about the exhibition or Hui No’eau, visit www.huinoeau.com or call 572-6560.

* Bonnie Friedman can be reached at bonnie@grapevineproductionshawaii.com.