Close up of Solomon Enos's "Alomilu: Faces from the Abyss"

Envisioning human life below the waves

Place Honolulu Museum of Art School
Text Leilani Portillo
Art Leilani Portillo

One of many Hawaiian creation stories, the Kumulipo chant reaches back furthest into humanity’s mythological past. It begins in the depth of pō (darkness/night) where life is created deep under the surface of the ocean. This chant honors the lineages of Wākea (sky father) and Papahānaumoku (earth mother), providing humanity with an even more direct link to the land. Artist Nanea Lum created an oil painting titled Papahānaumoku (2017) for CONTACT: Hawaiʻi 3017 which explains how the people of Hawaiʻi are bound to this land through Papahānaumoku, who birthed the islands.

Underneath Lum’s painting, Solomon Enos’s piece Alomilu: Faces from the Abyss (2017) acts almost like a reflection of Lum’s painting. Enos’s coral-like masks lay on the ground, sometimes with the faces up and sometimes facing down. Solomon Enos thinks in increments of 40,000 years, so this year’s CONTACT theme was perhaps not as much of a challenge for him as for others. When he envisions Hawaiʻi in a thousand years, he reflects on the Kumulipo and pictures humans returning to the ocean to let the land mālama (take care) itself.

Lum's Papahānaumoku painting overlooking Enos's coral masks

In Enos’s vision, global warming has caused sea levels to rise dramatically, and the mountains are the only land left above the waves as humanity expands its consciousness and creates life in the depths of the ocean. Leaving the land to itself, his future is one in which humans live in kindness and collectively agree to retreat into the depths of the ocean to save the land above. In the process, humans shed these coral-like masks that are washed up on shores of the former mountain peaks, representing a shift in identity. The colors of these masks resemble a coral reef with bright greens, pinks and yellows and, in a thousand years, this beautiful debris piles up on the shore becoming new shells to be collected. Only this time no one is there to pick them up.

As these artists create work envisioning the future of Hawaiʻi in a thousand years, they use Hawaiian knowledge and reflect on one of the oldest Hawaiian creation chants and relate it to the present and future. When thinking about the future, one needs to always look at the past and use the ʻike of our kūpuna to carry forward. Lum explains, “The future is now, and then. This perspective of time comes from the eternal system of belief in the genealogical connections the people of Hawai‘i have with their ‘āina [land]. What is to be expected one thousand years in the future comes from what is happening now, and what our ancestors did to survive in the past. The logic of this statement is as pa‘a [firm] as the concrete below my feet.”

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