The Native Hawaiian artist’s installation Ponoiwi opens this Friday, Sept. 28, at ARTafterDARK: The Reveal. The work addresses the issue of removing sand from Maui dunes—where Native Hawaiians buried their ancestors for centuries—for the making of concrete for the construction industry on O‘ahu. First installed in 2011 for an exhibition at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, Ponoiwi continues to be a timely work, with the recommencing of the Honolulu Rail project, and Gov. Abercrombie this year signing SB 1171, allowing construction projects to proceed without having to conduct a complete archeological inventory survey of a project. Landgraf is a recipient of a 2013 Native Arts & Cultures Foundation Fellowship.
You’re known as a photographer, what inspired you to do Ponoiwi as an installation?
The first thing that came to me was the idea of using a suspended shovel to represent the gouging of the land and the images came second. I only do installation when I feel the work will be enhanced with multiple layers of meaning and presence.
What inspired Ponoiwi?
I worked on a book project, Na Wahi Kapu o Maui, from 1996 to 2001, where I was documenting cultural and archeological sites on the island of Maui. I worked with someone who was on the Maui Island Burial Council, so I was given the opportunity to experience these places and it always sat in the back of my mind. The whole sand issue was even more apparent after I finished the project. When the Maui Arts & Cultural Center was organizing the group exhibition I Keia Manawa, of four Native Hawaiian women artists [Landgraf, Maile Andrade, Kaili Chun and April Drexel], I felt it was critical to speak to an issue critical to Maui.
Ponoiwi seems to take on more and more meaning as Honolulu continues to develop.
It’s interesting because a lot of people on Maui were not aware of the removing of Maui sand from their island for the purpose of construction on O‘ahu. Although it’s a Maui issue, it speaks to the constant development in Hawai‘i at the cost of Hawaiian land, culture and people. What’s happening currently in Kaka‘ako and the construction of rail in phases will set up for the continuous disregard by the powers that be. It’s exactly what happened with the construction of the H-3, it’s history repeating itself again. Ponoiwi asks, “Why are you doing this?”
Mahalo Kapulani for always offering all of us, everyone living in Hawaii nei, a chance to take stock and really ask ourselves to look within. Sadly the answers to why we do what we do are mostly the same, centered around greed and arrogance. Short term and self centered solutions that will surely be hewa loa looking into the future. As Hawaiians it’s our duty to think long term, and yet, these things continue to happen.
Your art helps me shift my time frame, and exposing these issues is vital. The things we don’t know, we need to find out more about. Sand from Maui for O’ahu development is profoundly disturbing, and your installation is an important alarm.
Your leo, through the medium of black and white photography is beautiful and at the same time haunting. Mahalo piha for raising our awareness of the inestimable value and customs of Ponoiwi. I can only ask, in response to your mana’o on sacrificing cultural values in the name of progress and development, “No ke aha?”
Seeing PONOIWI at MACC in Maui moved me to tears. Engrossed in life at the time believing someone would stop the desecration, someone would remember it’s importance, someone would speak out I’ve learned that the someone is me. Mahalo for the inspiration. Now, a member of the Maui Lanai Burial Council, I speak up, I speak out, hold 12 hour vigils of remembrance in the puuone and up to Iao valley. Please consider sharing with us again.