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Honolulu-Based Artist Kamea Hadar

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Homecoming: Hōkūle‘a, Hadar and Hina. We talk about origins, inspiration and connecting with the Honolulu-based artist. Interview by Daniel Ikaika Ito

There has always been a connection between Honolulu’s Kamea Hadar and Mālama Honua, the worldwide voyage of Hōkūle‘a. He painted the hatch covers of Hōkūle‘a, the cabin of Hikianali‘a and a mural of Papa Mau Piailug at Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i! 2014. In May, Kamea smashed the largest mural to date in his career: a 130-feet tall depiction of the Hawaiian goddess, Hina, on the 14-story Hālawa View Apartments. This piece is dedicated to the homecoming of Hōkūle‘a, which will end its four-year voyage of circumnavigating the Earth using traditional Polynesian navigation techniques in June. We caught up with Kamea while he was preparing for Pow! Wow! Israel and he was on a homecoming himself.

Daniel Ikaika Ito: Where are you right now?

Kamea Hadar: I’m a little town outside of Jerusalem where I was born and I grew up–technically I grew up mostly in Hawai‘i–but I grew up here till I was 4. I am currently preparing for Pow! Wow! Israel and I’m organizing all the logistics before the crew comes in.

How monumental was your last commissioned piece in the grand scheme of your career?

I completed my biggest mural to date: it’s a 14-story behemoth! It’s about a 130-feet tall, a depiction of the Hawaiian goddess, Hina. It’s inspired by Hōkūle‘a and the worldwide voyage, Mālama Honua and their return home from circumnavigating the globe.

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What was the inspiration for this massive project?

This project, like many of my projects, had many wow-this-is-meant-to-be-moments. For example, I was approached by Pacific Development Group to see if I could paint their building. They took me to the wall on the initial site visit and up to the roof. I was looking out from this really, really tall building over all of Pearl Harbor and I started thinking of the Arizona Memorial, all of the sailors, Mālama Honua and Hōkūle‘a. I could really feel the sense of place. So I asked them, “what if I paint the whole building?” And they said, “yeah!” Then I said that I painted a series of projects for Hōkūle‘a when they left and when they come back [to Hawai‘i] it will be this amazingly perfect timing so it just kind of worked out that way. Then when I was thinking about who would be a good person to model and use as reference I was scouring the Internet, asking around and making phone calls. All of these different routes kept taking me back to the same person, Mahina Garcia, who at least in my opinion, looks like a real-life Hawaiian goddess. Her skin. Her face. Her build. She just has that kind of presence when you meet her. And you, Ito, hooked me up and connected me with her like the many connections you’ve made. I mean you’re the one that connected me with Jasper [Wong] originally when we started this whole thing.

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Yes! I got that recorded and I’ve been waiting years for this. Nah, I’m just joking.

(Laughs) No, no, man. I specifically remember that I was in my truck, parked outside of [our friend’s] house on Young Street. And, I remember you specifically telling me while I was parking. And you’re like, “yeah, Jasper is doing this thing with artists and you’re an artist too and he wants to blackout all of the pieces and it’s super weird.” Then you’re like, “yeah the only thing is that he is having a problem finding a house [for the artists] to stay in and he’s thinking of a big beach house on the North Shore or something. Then I was like, “dude, my family just built this big house and that is what we wanted it for.” Then you were like, “I’ll connect you with Jasper.” Then Jasper literally called me five minutes later and was like, “you remember me from high school?”

(Laughs) And the rest is street art history. I just want to connect cool people with cool people.

I like to do that as well. I totally appreciate when other people are the same way because you can call them and they’ll be like, “this will be awesome.” You can tell when those kinds of connections are one plus one equals three. If you connect these two people they will be more than just two people: it’s like one plus one equals 100. Or, one plus one equals infinity, it just depends on who the two people are and what the connection is.

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Totally! Who are some of the people you connected with to make this project happen?

Whenever it comes time to credit everyone that has to do with a mural or any project the list can go on and on, but it always comes back to the amazing support that my family has had for me since I was a little kid. The list goes on forever, but I guess the short list for this mural is Pacific Development Group, who owns the building, supported me and initially reached out to me. Polynesian Voyaging Society, Hōkūle‘a, Bruce Blankenfeld, Nainoa Thompson, Sonya, Heidi and basically everyone involved with PVS. They are such positive people and they’re just trying to do what I’m doing: we just want to leave the world a more beautiful place than how we found it. It’s really nice to work with like-minded people. Austin Kino is a good friend of mine and he’s always very helpful. You, of course, and then, OluKai, who, since I first met them has always been incredibly supportive with all my projects, their ears and hearts have always been open. They just listen, soak it in and help and support. I couldn’t ask for a better partner in all that I do than OluKai. City Mill helped recently with supplies for Pow! Wow! and for this mural in particular. Mahina donated her beautiful face. Mason Rose helped me take the reference photos of her. Kūha‘o Zane helped advise on the technical side with the kind of lei po‘o that he would make if he was dancing hula that had to do with the goddess, Hina. Prime always advises me on all my projects and imagery. He took me into the lo‘i, we worked there, kind of thought about it and advised me on all the symbolism. Cory Taum was my assistant on the whole project and he was not any less scared than me going up. And, I went up because I had to because I put my name on it and I had to overcome my fears and he did it just to help me fulfill my dream. I’m just grateful that he did what he did.

Why was important to paint the Hawaiian goddess Hina and how does it relate to the homecoming of Hōkūle‘a?

 In Hawaiian culture, a lot of the legends are based on an oral history so there are always many interpretations and versions of all the different gods and stories. In a nutshell, Hina was said to be the goddess of the moon and stars, obviously the moon and stars are incredibly important to the navigators on Hōkūle‘a. Hina was said to help guide sailors on their voyages around the ocean so I felt that she was a very fitting image, holding up the moon and guiding Hōkūle‘a home.

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*Follow more of Kamea Hadar on instagram @kameahadar