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

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.

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.

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.


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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

The exhibition will continue through Jan. 27.

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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