The exhibition Making Waveson view beginning June 14 in the contemporary collection gallery—highlights works by women artists from the museum’s collection. The selections center around the theme of water, employed by the artists as conceptual foundation or as literal subject matter.

As the museum is able to display only a small fraction of the collection at a particular time, an exhibition of works by women adds diversity to the galleries, allowing for exposure of underrepresented artists and for the consideration of new perspectives.

Water is a subject that has fascinated and inspired artists throughout history and continues to play an important role in the traditions and practices of peoples around the world. It is emblematic of spiritual purification, and is considered to represent the feminine force yin in Taoist philosophy. In Western mythology, the femme fatale and the dangers of water are closely tied in stories of sirens and mermaids—part woman, part animal creatures—who lure unsuspecting sailors to their watery graves. The horizon as seen over vast expanses of water often symbolizes the unknown, adventure, and the afterlife. Rivers and streams have historically served as areas of division or of joining together, as between the living and dead in ancient Greek mythology, and as geographical markers between states and countries. In the Hawaiian ahupua‘a system, land and water are interconnected ecosystems that sustain life.

Water plays a direct role in the daily life of Hawaii’s people and is especially relevant today. Surrounded by ocean, the islands have a unique responsibility to play in the protection and conservation of this critical resource. The environmental effects of climate change—sea-level rise and its effect on coastal communities, ocean pollution from plastics and runoff, sustainable fishing and farming practices, and access to safe drinking water—are timely topics of discussion locally and globally.

We caught up with California native and current Kauai resident Carol Bennett to learn more about how her love of swimming began to inspire her artwork and why Hawaii is the perfect location for such an exhibition.

Bennett in action.

Bennett in action.

Why and how did swimming and art intersect so seamlessly for you?

I’m not a particularly good swimmer, but it’s like my daily meditation. My work is self-referential, so I just kind of paint what I do—and I swim. It’s like point A to point B. I finger the texture of the fabric of my everyday life and kind of idealize it, or make icons out of my everyday, so that they become kind of universal. I’m a woman and I paint women in water. [But they remain] anonymous because I don’t want it to be a specific individual, I want it to be like any woman—or every woman.

Tell me more about the piece you have featured in the show, which differs from your more well-known pieces.

I’m really excited about the piece that [Katherine Love is] putting in. I don’t think many people have seen it and it’s kind of an epic piece. It’s a recycled net…I remember the piece as being quite dramatic and epic because it’s bigger than you are, and then you go into the detail and uniqueness of every knot that the net connects. Nets are always about connections for me. That net I found at Mahaulepu [Beach on Kaua’i]. I dragged home tons of nets from Mahaulepu. I used to make tree houses and forts for the kids out of the nets, and that particular net is from that time.

Carol Bennett (American, born 1954), "Falling Waterline," c. 2007, Graphite, acrylic, oil on Dacron sailcloth, Gift of The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, 2011, and gift of Sharon and Thurston Twigg‑Smith, (TCM.2008.28), Copyright Carol Bennett

Carol Bennett (American, born 1954), “Falling Waterline,” c. 2007,
Graphite, acrylic, oil on Dacron sailcloth,
Gift of The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, 2011, and gift of Sharon and Thurston Twigg‑Smith, (TCM.2008.28), Copyright Carol Bennett

What do you want audiences to feel when they look at that piece?

I want them to feel lost in it. That’s how I respond to that piece because I get lost in it because of its size. Everything else can just kind of float away. I think it’s kind of mesmerizing. It’s kind of like looking at a puzzle and trying to puzzle the pieces together. It’s a lot to take in in its entirety but when I look at that piece, I’m kind of compelled to look at it piece-by-piece-by-piece to see how they fit together.

What do you think about the concept of the exhibition?

I think it’s exciting, and how many museums can do that? I like that it deals with what’s unique about Hawaiʻi—our affinity and our constant exposure to the oceans and to the water and environmental concerns. It’s a good platform for artists to talk about that.