National Museum of the American Indian Celebrates Hawaii

April 27, 2011
News Release

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian will host a variety of free public programs to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, including a two-day Hawaiian cultural festival, the opening of the exhibition “This IS Hawai‘i,” gallery talks and discussions, film screenings and more.

Native Film

Throughout May, the Hawaiian film Kaho‘olawe (1997, 57 min.) will be screened in the Rasmuson Theater at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. daily, except Wednesdays and select days during the museum’s Wattage theater festival. This documentary chronicles efforts by Native Hawaiians to recover their sacred island Kaho‘olawe, which had been used as a military bombing range. As the film shows, the struggle often took the form of traditional Native Hawaiian oratory, dance, and ceremony. For the complete schedule, visit


Opening Thursday, May 19, in collaboration with Transformer, a nonprofit visual arts organization based in Washington, the museum presents “This IS Hawai‘i,” a multisite exhibition featuring new and experimental works of art that explore what it means to be Hawaiian in the 21st century. The work of Maika‘i Tubbs will be shown at Transformer and the work of Solomon Enos and Carl F.K. Pao will be shown at the museum’s Sealaska Gallery. Artist Puni Kukahiko’s outdoor sculptures will stand at both sites. The exhibition, which runs through July 4, challenges the aggressively marketed image of the islands as a magical paradise, offering a new model for collaboration among cultural organizations. It was created by independent curator Isabella E. Hughes with input from cultural advisor Marques Hanalei Marzan and Transformer’s Executive and Artistic Director Victoria Reis. 

About the Artists

Solomon Enos
Enos is an award-winning, self-taught artist, illustrator, and cultural activist who has been creating art for almost two decades. Born and raised on the Wai‘anae coast of O‘ahu, his work is deeply connected to his Kanaka Maoli heritage. Polyfantasica, an ongoing, ever-growing multimedia experience, encompasses 40,000 years of fictional human evolution that imagines an alternative universe based on aboriginal and Polynesian folklore. Through vivid drawings, fantastical action figures, a graphic novel, and an interactive website, Polyfantastica transports visitors into another world where planets are islands, dream voyaging and shape-shifting have become forms of adaptation and war has become obsolete. Previous exhibitions include shows at the United Nations in New York; the Sixth Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Brisbane, Australia; and the Hawai‘i State Art Museum and the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

Puni Kukahiko
Born and raised on O‘ahu, Kuahiko is a graduate of the Kamehameha Schools and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Residing deep in the back of O‘ahu’s Kalihi Valley, Kukahiko and her family are the caretakers of Ho‘oulu ‘āina Nature Preserve, where they live mālama ‘āina (taking care of the land) by supporting educational initiatives, promoting indigenous food and plant production, removing and repurposing invasive species, and growing Hawaiian medicinal herbs and plants. With “Coming home to our most indigenous selves,” Kukahiko has created a two-part installation highlighting the relationship between native and invasive species using kamani wood, native to Hawaii, and the highly invasive albizia tree that she is removing and repurposing in Kalihi Valley, O‘ahu. Kukahiko has been featured at the Anchorage Museum of Art & History, the Hawai‘i State Art Museum and the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, and the Museum of Arts and Design and the United Nations in New York City. 

Carl F.K. Pao
Born in Kailua, O‘ahu, Pao earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in 1994 with an emphasis in ceramics, followed by a Master of Fine Arts from the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland, Aotearoa (New Zealand), in 1999. He returned to Hawaii in 2000 to take his position as art teacher at the Kamehameha Schools in the Kapālama High School Visual Arts department. Pao’s fictional “Post-Historic Museum of the Possible Aboriginal Hawaiian” directly questions the status of and relationship among indigenous Hawaiians, museums, modes of display and the field of archeology. Working also in the mode of institutional critique, Pao will take on the guise of the “Post-Historic” director at a variety of events associated with the opening. By transforming everyday objects into “genuine artifacts of the Possible Aboriginal Hawaiian,” Pao draws attention to concerns within indigenous communities around the world about recognition and portrayal within institutional and governmental contexts. Pao has exhibited both locally and abroad, including at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, the United Nations in New York and the Hawai‘i State Art Museum.

Maika‘i Tubbs
Tubbs is a multimedia artist from Honolulu, O‘ahu. A 1996 graduate of Kamehameha Schools, he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in 2002.  From toy soldiers and syringes to packing tape and glue, Tubbs continues to find new ways to explore different materials by breaking down their original intent. In Tubbs’ “A Life of Its Own,” presented at Transformer, the artist masterfully transforms plastic spoons, forks, knives and plates into intricate, delicate sculptures in the form of the wood rose vine, a highly invasive, decorative plant species found in four of the Hawaiian Islands. Tubbs explores the invasiveness of these two materials in relation to the wood rose plant and the insidious nature of plastic, commenting on contemporary disposable culture that consumerism nurtures. Widely exhibited in Hawaii, Tubbs has been shown at the Bishop Museum, Maui Arts and Cultural Center and the Contemporary Museum Biennial of Hawai‘i of Artists IX. He has also exhibited at the United Nations in New York.

About the Curator

Isabella E. Hughes is a curator, critic and art and cultural projects consultant with international experience in both the commercial and non-profit art world. Hughes specializes in contemporary art with an academic interest in the rise of transculturalism and art from the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific and their diasporas. Hughes has a Bachelor of Arts in Art History from Boston University and a Master of Arts in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University. 

Artist Talks

On Thursday, May 19, from 1 to 2 p.m. at the museum’s Sealaska Gallery, independent curator Isabella E. Hughes will talk about the unique collaboration that led to the exhibition. On Friday, May 20, from 1 to 2 p.m., Pao will guide a tour of his “Post-Historic Museum of the Possible Aboriginal Hawaiian” in his role as the installation’s “director.” Later that day, from 4 to 5:30 p.m., the public can join a discussion about the global indigenous art scene with artists Kukahiko, Alan Michelson, Pao and Gina Matchitt. The panel, moderated by Kathleen Ash-Milby, museum curator of contemporary art, will address evolving strategies and artistic practices among Native artists from different regions and varying cultural backgrounds. On Saturday, May 21, opening day of “This IS Hawai‘I” at Transformer, the organization will host an open house featuring talks with artists Tubbs and Kukahiko from 2 to 3:30 p.m. On Sunday, May 22, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Kukahiko will discuss her outdoor installation near the museum’s Hawaiian garden, followed by a Q&A from 1:30 to 4 p.m. in the museum’s Potomac Atrium in which visitors are invited to ask questions about native Hawaiian plants and about her work with the Ho‘oulu ‘āina Nature Preserve.

Dinner & A Movie           

On Friday, May 20, at 7 p.m., the public is invited to a special screening of Papa Mau: The Wayfinder (2010, 57 min.). Directed by Na‘alehu Anthony, the documentary follows a group of young Hawaiians as they embark on a mission to revive the traditional Polynesian arts of canoe-building and wayfinding. Their search leads them to the Island of Satawal in Micronesia, and the master navigator, Mau Piailug, who shares the ways of his ancestors aboard the voyaging canoe, Hokule‘a. Cuisine from the museum’s Zagat-rated Mitsitam Cafe will be available for purchase from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Seats in the theater are limited, the public may register online at

Hawaiian Festival

The museum’s annual “Celebrate Hawai‘i” festival on Saturday and Sunday, May 21 and 22, brings the best of Hawaii to Washington, D.C. The weekend’s festivities include hula performances, food and craft demonstrations, hands-on activities for children and families, and a panel discussion on the history, culture and traditions of Hawaii’s indigenous communities.

Jerome Grant, a sous chef of the museum’s Mitsitam Cafe, will host live food demonstrations at the museum’s outdoor fire pit. The Hawaiian feast will include lomi lomi salmon lettuce wraps, huli huli chicken and kulolo pudding for dessert. Hawaiian artist Daniel Kaniala Anthony will teach visitors the traditional preparation of poi, a staple food of the Polynesian community made from the taro plant. The program will also include daily dance demonstrations by two local halaus (Hawaiian school of dance) and the Tau Dancers, who combine traditional hula, ballet and contemporary modern-dance techniques.

Hands-on activities will include a workshop on Lauhala weaving by Cheryl Pukahi, in which visitors will be invited to create a souvenir using leaves of the Hawaiian pandanus tree, and a live demonstration on traditional woodworking by master craftsman Dennis Kanae Keawe. Artisan Dalani Tanahy will also host demonstrations on the creation and use of kapa, a fabric created from tree bark that is unique to the Hawaiian islands. For the festival’s complete schedule, visit

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