Throughout the process of opening Molokai Window, conversations arose that left tremendous impacts on the content, scope, sites and form of the exhibition. Malia Akutagawa brought us deep into the mo‘olelo of Molokai with patience, teaching us their importance and sharing her wisdom generously as we inquired about particular places, protocols and methods. Rick Ornellas shared memories of the elementary school where he dreamed of the world as a child and the high school where he currently inspires the youth of Molokai. These dialogues were meaningful exchanges that helped shape the exhibition.
As community members spoke to us about the work for the Window, face-to-face meetings took on material consequences. After talking story with Matt Yamashita and his grandmother, he suggested we visit the resilient rock in the middle of the road that would not let itself be excavated near Kaunakakai. It was once proposed that the stone be moved to flatten the road to improve traffic flow in the area. The construction machinery broke as it tried to dig up the stone. It would not budge. The strength of that stone in the face of developers is a powerful symbol of resilience on the island that continues today. The rock remains in its original location with a guardrail and traffic moving around it.
While working on the Molokai Window exhibition, we drew upon many sources to better understand the island. Along the way, we even considered including a bookcase to share the resources that have informed this exhibition, including: Tales from the Night Rainbow (1986), Na Mano O Na Kupuna: An Oral History of Hawai‘i (1980), A Sense of Place: Change and Persistence on Molokai (2007), Hawaiian Souls, The Movement to Stop the U.S. Military Bombing of Kahoʻolawe (2015), Health Impact Assessment of the proposed Mo‘omomi Community-Based Subsistence Fishing Area (2016), Traditional & Customary Practices Report for Mana‘e, Moloka‘i (2016), Molokai Site Survey (1971), Touch the Earth (1971), Environmental Justice, Native Rights, Tourism, and Opposition to Military Control: The Case of Kahoʻolawe (2004), and many important articles in the Molokai Dispatch and the Center for Oral History archives at UH Mānoa. These references were an important part of our research for the exhibition. These books can inspire audiences to learn more about the positive examples from Molokai, how the people of Molokai assume responsibility for caring for the ʻāina and ancestral knowledge, so we can take those lessons back to our own communities.
Although published resources were crucial to the early stages of the work, the exhibition happened because people so generously shared their oral traditions in face-to-face conversation. Without meeting people here and there, allowing time to talk story and forget about everything else, Molokai Window would not have opened. Those experiences became the foundation of the exhibition installation, rather than secondary sources from others who are graciously documented in books and other materials. That is why brief quotes carefully selected from these longer conversations are recorded on the museum walls, including: Malia, Rikki, Walter, and Bobby. Furthermore, in the artwork didactics, Malia, Marcus, Mac and others are quoted to give context for the artworks.
There are far more voices floating in the air: Ric, Paula, Emillia, Apelila, Myron, Loretta, Hanohano and others. The powerful voices of these Molokai residents with open ears made this exhibition possible. Books were also important, but it was these primary experiences that shaped the window in its deepest sense. We feel tremendous gratitude to all those who contributed their stories for the exhibition and hope they feel the exhibition honors the stories they have shared with us.Artworks in Molokai Window are a way to share these stories with others, in gratitude for all of the teachings that have been shared with us.
Molokai Window is on view until Sept. 16 in the John Dominis and Patches Damon Holt Gallery: The Arts of Hawai‘i.