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Artworks and artifacts that show the unreal and idyllic Hawaii as well as the islands' poignant past

Artworks and artifacts that show the unreal and idyllic Hawaii as well as the islands' poignant past
Three new exhibits in Honolulu feature artists from different generations interpreting the islands and their people. This idyllic scene was painted by contemporary artist Mike Field and is displayed at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel. (Queen Kapiolani Hotel)

What is the real Hawaii? Three new exhibits of art and artifacts in Honolulu demonstrate that the answer depends on the era — and whether a native Hawaiian or a tourist is asked the question.

The reverse side of “Aina Aloha,” a 20-foot-long mural at the Bishop Museum, is painted primarily in red to reflect the pain inflicted on native Hawaiians over several generations.
The reverse side of “Aina Aloha,” a 20-foot-long mural at the Bishop Museum, is painted primarily in red to reflect the pain inflicted on native Hawaiians over several generations. (Kathleen Connelly)

Beginning a dialogue is at the core of “Unreal: Hawaii in Popular Imagination,” which opened July 14 at the Bishop Museum. Through a variety of media, the exhibition examines how commercial art has depicted Hawaii through time.

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A colorful picture book depicting native women in grass skirts was published during World War II and mainly sold to servicemen stationed on Oahu.
A colorful picture book depicting native women in grass skirts was published during World War II and mainly sold to servicemen stationed on Oahu. (Bishop Museum)

The extensive show described as an “experiential installation” contains items such as a 1943 booklet whose cover features hula dancers beneath palm trees. It was primarily marketed to military personnel stationed on Oahu.

In 1916, when this sheet music was published, Hawaii was a faraway, exotic destination few Americans ever reached. Even so, the islands’ allure is evident in artwork such as this.
In 1916, when this sheet music was published, Hawaii was a faraway, exotic destination few Americans ever reached. Even so, the islands’ allure is evident in artwork such as this. (Bishop Museum)

A backdrop of sheet music is displayed at a listening station where visitors can hear early examples of authentic Hawaiian music.

The cover for the 1916 tune, “I’m Going to Honolulu Some Day – Don’t You Want to Come Along?,” shows a jaunty man being serenaded by two ukulele-strumming women.

Many of the pieces in the show come from a private collection of Hawaiian ephemera, which have never been displayed together. “Unreal images enticed people to visit Hawaii and to consume products infused with the imagined glamour and exotic allure of the islands,” the museum’s website says.

Six native Hawaiian artists contributed to “Aina Aloha,” a mural on display at the Bishop Museum. The front side, a portion of which is pictured here, depicts peace and reconciliation efforts among islanders.
Six native Hawaiian artists contributed to “Aina Aloha,” a mural on display at the Bishop Museum. The front side, a portion of which is pictured here, depicts peace and reconciliation efforts among islanders. (Kathleen Connelly)

One half of the museum’s Long Gallery is filled by “Aina Aloha” (Beloved Land, Beloved Country), a contemporary mural created by six native artists. The two-sided, 20-foot-long piece shares stories from the islands’ past while also providing what a news release described as “a hoped-for pathway to healing, from a Hawaiian viewpoint.”

“Unreal” continues through Jan. 27.

Art and relics from the late 19th century, when King David Kalakaua ruled Hawaii, are the focus of an upcoming exhibit in downtown Honolulu.
Art and relics from the late 19th century, when King David Kalakaua ruled Hawaii, are the focus of an upcoming exhibit in downtown Honolulu. (Honolulu Museum of Art)

Three miles away, in downtown Honolulu, the Honolulu Museum of Art is preparing for “Hooulu Hawaii: The King Kalakaua Era,” which will open Sept. 13.

A period piece by artist Joseph Strong depicts Honolulu as it appeared in 1886, during the reign of King Kalakaua.
A period piece by artist Joseph Strong depicts Honolulu as it appeared in 1886, during the reign of King Kalakaua. (Honolulu Museum of Art)

The exhibit of never-before-displayed pieces from several collections will highlight the forward-looking, 19th century monarchy led by King David Kalakaua. The artifacts will highlight an era during which the King encouraged people to help create a progressive, national identity.

An 1890s painting by Ella Smith Corwine depicts a feather garment of the type worn by Hawaiian royalty.
An 1890s painting by Ella Smith Corwine depicts a feather garment of the type worn by Hawaiian royalty. (Honolulu Museum of Art)

In addition to paintings, other items to be displayed include government-commissioned clothing, the King’s scrapbooks and early telephones. Hawaii’s royal residence, Iolani Palace in Honolulu, had phones and electric lights several years before they were installed at the White House.

An ornately engraved early telephone for use by royalty is part of the art museum exhibit opening in September.
An ornately engraved early telephone for use by royalty is part of the art museum exhibit opening in September. (Honolulu Museum of Art)

The exhibition will continue through Jan. 27.

The sun is out and the surf is up in this whimsical painting by Katie Borden. On display at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel, it is one of several new acquisitions that greet guests.
The sun is out and the surf is up in this whimsical painting by Katie Borden. On display at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel, it is one of several new acquisitions that greet guests. (Queen Kapiolani Hotel)

A mix of vintage and contemporary art blend together inside the Queen Kapiolani Hotel. Built in 1969 at the Diamond Head end of Waikiki, the hotel is undergoing major renovations that include newly-commissioned playful paintings.

“Maka and Pineapple Boy” by Katie Borden, can be found in the lobby. It depicts both a dog and a sunglasses-wearing pineapple atop a surfboard.

On the hotel’s second floor, the new Royal Art Gallery is home to works that adorned the hotel walls when first opened nearly 50 years ago. The gallery is so named since the resort sits on land once the exclusive domain of Hawaiian royalty.

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