Hawai’i has a small town feel. If you went to high school with someone, there’s a chance you’ll be crossing paths later on in life. It’s no surprise then, that two local artists from the same Oahu high school ended up coming back together later in life to create Pow! Wow! — the global street art festival with its roots in Hawai’i.
Back in 2011, Kamea Hadar and Jasper Wong set out to create a collaborative art event in Hawai’i. They wanted to put their island on the map for art, and create a setting where talented Hawaiian artists no longer needed to leave for bigger cities to pursue their career. By inviting artists from across the world to come and paint murals for a week in Oahu, they were —unknowingly — laying the building blocks for a global art festival that would eventually reach countries across the world, from Taiwan to Israel, and Japan to mainland US. Yet back in its early days, it was a self-funded, grassroots event, where the biggest challenges were finding walls that could be painted and accomodation for the incoming artists.
In fact, it was this need for a roof over the artists’ heads that led to Kamea becoming an intrinsic part of Pow! Wow!. “Daniel Ito called me out of the blue one day and asked if I remembered Jasper from high school,” Kamea tells us. “He told me he wanted to do this art event in Hawai’i but needed a house for the artists. My dad is a contractor (and an artist) and had literally just finished building a big house on our property on the North Shore that he was intending to use for artistic retreats. It was one of those meant-to-be moments!” For the next four years the artists of Pow! Wow! would crash at Kamea’s house, creating a family vibe that seems to have continued through the Pow! Wow! events, even if today the artists stay in hotels.
Kamea’s own artwork has grown as the event itself blooms into an international art phenomenon. During the 2013 Pow! Wow! he painted his first large scale mural — an image of his wife’s face — that he considers the true starting point of his mural career. Ironically, it almost didn’t happen. He was offered the wall on the Thursday and was exhausted from his work putting the event together and considered turning down the opportunity. But with the help of fellow artist and good friend Rone, he worked for two days straight and created what he now classes as his all time favorite mural. If you are lucky enough to walk through the streets of Kakaako, you will still see this mural today.
The event has taken Kamea far and wide, and even back to his family roots in Israel in 2017 where he organized a smaller scale event reminiscent of Pow! Wow!’s earlier days. Yet nothing beats Hawai’i. “I grew up here,” he explains. “ I love everything about Hawaii! I love exposing outsiders to its beautiful places and people. I really care about the place and I want to better the art scene here. When I grew up I was told I could either be an artist or live in Hawaii - not both. I want to change that.”
It would seem he is well on his way to achieving that goal. This year’s Pow! Wow! is once again attracting super talented, well-known artists from across the world, including Daniel Arsham and Tokidoki co-founder Simone Legno. Yet no matter how large and impressive the event becomes, it will always stay true to its founding principles: Process is just as important as the finished product, and Collaboration.