On March 19, the Art School will explode with sound and color as Micronesian artists, musicians, and dancers come together for the third Celebrate Micronesia festival. Visitors can see a rainbow of customary dress patterns, Palauan dancers glowing in their traditional rub of coconut oil and turmeric, and Marshallese weavers showing off intricate fans and hats. Make a whole day of it—256 artist and performers are slated to share the talents and wares of their myriad cultures.
“This festival grows in scale each year and I look forward to see how it evolves in the future,” says interim museum director Allison Wong. “The museum is proud to help our community celebrate and learn more about the rich tradition and culture of Micronesia.”
In the weeks prior to this year’s festival, the museum set the stage with two related exhibitions. On view in the Japanese woodblock print gallery is A Traveler’s Impressions of Asia: The Woodblock Prints of Paul Jacoulet, which showcases the catalogue of romanticized prints the French artist made during visits to Micronesia in the 1930s. Across the street at the Art School is the installation Arc: Charting the Path of Celestial Bodies by Māori visual and performing artist Moana Nepia, on view through March 19. Nepia has woven a sprawling lattice of red bamboo shoots along the school’s staircase and up into the ceiling rafters, conjuring the sails of voyaging canoes and the constellations that guided them. In the run-up to Celebrate Micronesia, students and local artists are adding hand-woven stars and other celestial objects to the framework.
These exhibitions are the result of an enhanced level of organization this year, facilitated by the event’s growing planning committee, which presently includes 26 leaders from community organizations ranging from the University of Hawai‘i’s Center for Pacific Islands Studies (CPIS) to Honolulu’s Marshallese Consulate. For committee member Vidalino Raatior, who is also the director of the Pacific Islander Student Center at UH–Hilo, Celebrate Micronesia is a personal and essential event.
“Our migrant community is going through the growing pains of discrimination experienced by all the new immigrants before us in Hawai‘i,” says Raatior, who is originally from Chuuk. “Events like the Celebrate Micronesia festival and the Celebrate Micronesian Women gathering on Sunday are opportunities for us to feel welcomed, honored, and celebrated in the spirit of aloha.”
Raatior’s firm created the beautiful new Celebrate Micronesia website, which, he says, “brings in another dimension of engagement with the larger Hawai‘i ‘ohana and the global community. People all over the world can now celebrate with us virtually if they can’t be there physically.”
“It’s important to feature the positive cultural heritage of Micronesia,” says Honolulu Museum of Art School director Vince Hazen, one of four museum staff on the planning committee. “The event underscores the diversity of Micronesian cultures. It’s a chance for Marshallese, Kosraean, Pohnpeian, Palauan, Yapese, Chamorro, and other island peoples to share visual and performing arts with each other, and with a broader audience.” Hazen is particularly excited about Mana Comics artist Chris Caravalho, who will debut superheroes he created based on Micronesian folktales. Children can participate in activities using Caravalho’s characters.
HoMA outreach coordinators Sam Guerrero, Emma Hussey, Rusti Cripps, and Justin Davies have done a lot of heavy lifting in preparing for the festival. In addition to organizing performances and displays, they have developed a concurrent workshop for Department of Education teachers on ways to incorporate Micronesian culture into social studies classes.
The festival runs through 4pm, but you may want to be there when it opens at 10am—the event kicks off with a call and response chant in Chamorro and Hawaiian by Mary Hittori and ‘Iwalani Koide.