Voyaging: The Art of Wayfinding

Posted on Apr 13, 2015 in Exhibitions, Past Exhibitions
Painting of woman on shore holding leis as the Hokule‘a approaches

Hokule‘a Lei Greeting
by Kathleen Carr


Voyaging: The Art of Wayfinding
Diamond Head Gallery [Turnaround Gallery]

May 1, 2015 – January 25, 2016

This exhibition featured a selection of maritime art related to Polynesian seafaring from the Art in Public Places Collection of the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.

Throughout time humankind has traversed the globe for many reasons. Some sought food due to famine, others have looked for riches, and the brave have searched purely for adventure. Travel for spiritual quests has brought still more exploration, while others have been forced to flee their homelands due to the devastation of war.

Ancestral Polynesian voyagers crossed the ocean by wayfinding, without the use of instruments. This form of navigation utilizes environmental information provided by the ocean, sky, wind, and creatures to locate landfall. Enter the exhibition and you enter into a world of Polynesian discovery, open oceans and a time when canoes, not jet planes, connected the islands of the Pacific.

A painting by Herb Kane showing Polynesian voyagers sailing on a cresting wave

The exhibition, curated by the SFCA’s Exhibit Specialist James Kuroda, included 28 artworks carefully selected from the Art in Public Places Collection. The exhibition used paintings, sculptures, prints, photos and textiles to tell the story of Polynesian wayfinding ­navigating the ocean using natural signs including birds, wind patterns, ocean currents, and the stars and planets of the night sky.

Eight oil paintings by Herb Kawainui Kane were included in the exhibition; his The Discovery of Hawai‘i quickly grabbed the attention of most who entered the gallery. Kane’s detailed, vivid paintings depict the journeys of the explorers from different island groups as they travel on the open ocean.

According to an interview published in Honolulu Magazine after his death in 2011 (Herb Kane: The Last Interview), Kane lived both on the mainland and in Hawai‘i, but could only afford to permanently move back to the islands after selling some of his artwork. “In 1969, Alfred Preis, the architect of the Arizona Memorial and the first executive director of the Hawaii State Foundation (on) Culture and the Arts, saw them and bought them all,” according to the magazine.

In 1973, Kane, along with Ben Finney, and waterman Tommy Holmes formed the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Brought together by their mutual enthusiasm for canoes, they sought to prove that ancient Polynesians traveled to the Hawaiian archipelago purposefully. The Society built and launched the Hōkūleʻa and in 1976 retraced the traditional migratory route from Hawai‘i to Tahiti, covering some 2,400 miles.

At the center of the gallery was Wright Bowman Sr.’s scale model of the Hōkūleʻa. The Hōkūleʻa and its companion canoe Hikianalia are currently on a journey around the globe, entitled “Malama Honua,” which translates “to care for our Earth.” Their mission is to participate in the worldwide movement of creating a more sustainable future for all.

The exhibition used art to tell the story about how Polynesians came to these islands which connects us to the resurgence of Hawaiian culture that began 40 years ago and the contemporary voyages of today.

Artists with work in the exhibit: Wright Bowman, Sr., Kathleen T. Carr, Joseph Feher, Dennis Hanshew, Herbert Kawainui Kane, Mary Ann Leigh, Wayne Levin, Mari Macmillan, Jeera Rattanangkoon, Laura Ruby, Donna Stoner, Reuben Tam, Elizabeth Train, William and Sally Worcester.

This exhibit traveled to Gallery ʻIolani at Windward Community College (Kāneʻohe, Oʻahu) and will be on display January 29 – March 5, 2017. For more information: Gallery ʻIolani