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muralist hard at work on street art mural at the pow wow art festival in honolulu, hawaii

POW! WOW!

Hawaii is a beautiful place, that much goes without saying, but much of Hawaii’s beauty is focused on its natural landscapes, not its thriving art scene. This is a true shame because Hawaii has two important facets that make for an interesting and radical art scene: a native population with its own artistic history and infrastructure put in place to help the art scene thrive.

There are plenty of programs used to promote and advertise Hawaii’s art scene, but one of the biggest and most exciting is the POW! WOW! Art Festival in the Kaka’ako district of Honolulu. This area, traditionally a place of royal significance, is an industrial and cultural hub for Hawaii’s capital and is the perfect launching point for this diverse and amazing festival.

On the surface, POW! WOW! is not dissimilar to many other street art festivals that take place around the world. It has a series of activities in which people can partake, including lectures and concerts, and it attracts some of the world’s most up-and-coming muralists and street artists. But what sets POW! WOW! apart is its diversity.

Being an island state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is unique to much of the world in that it’s a true mosaic. Cultures and cultural influences are all around you when you walk through Honolulu, especially when it comes to other Pacific islands. POW! WOW! celebrates this diversity with a heavy influence on artists from places like New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and more.

beautiful mural being rendered at the pow wow art festival

POW! WOW! gets its name from the Indigenous American term for a gathering. The word itself is derived from the Narragansett word powwaw, which means “spiritual leader. Appropriately enough, the Narragansett are an Algonquin tribe traditionally from an island themselves: Rhode Island.

In many ways, POW! WOW! is about gathering people together, which is why there is such a heavy focus on events and diversity. At any time during the festival, there are talks happening in galleries and on the streets, and people can interact with artists and some of their art as part of the festival. And, of course, there’s plenty of entertainment as well. It’s also one of the few festivals in the Northern Hemisphere to take place during the winter, in the dead of February to be exact, which makes it an excellent retreat for people who want to see great art and get out of the cold.

What POW! WOW! represents for the street art community is two important things: the necessity of inclusion and the importance of discussion. With a focus on both, POW! WOW! is an important festival for showcasing numerous talents that may otherwise be considered “regional.” By giving a voice, and the chance to create, to a wide variety of artists, POW! WOW! is leading the charge in making great festivals that are by everyone and for everyone.

hula sitting on surfboard infront of watery mural

Hula Bio

Graffiti has a long history of being done in precarious places. In New York, street artists have climbed higher and higher to avoid clean up crews, often climbing twenty stories and painting with ropes and harnesses to covey their message to the world. In parts of Nevada, billboard vandals climb fences and scale tall poles to spread their messages of anti-consumerism. But in Hawaii, one artist is getting his street art out to the world in a precarious place, and it all looks amazing.

exterior mural painting above waterline by artist hula

But what Sean Yoro, aka Hula, does can hardly be called street art. Probably a more appropriate term would be “waterway art.” Instead of climbing or traversing or hopping, Hula paddles out on his surfboard, scouting locations that are visible to the casual passerby but are difficult to approach. And, with his board fully loaded with paints and brushes, he sets about giving the sea-line of Hawaii something beautiful.

Hula is a master of the female form and almost every single one of his surfboard murals features a bathing woman. Each one is completely unique, a bust of a woman enjoying the warm ocean, and they are all singularly beautiful. Hula’s attention to detail to a point of near-photorealism gives the murals a certain depth and allure. He also frequently incorporates small symbols on the women’s bodies, a callback to his Hawaiian roots.

artwork by hula

Hula is now based in New York and turning much of his attention to indoor art, art that requires just as many paints and brushes, but a lot less paddles and surfboards. His indoor work avoids the usual canvas of, well, actual canvas, and instead uses unusual surfaces as a base. It only seems appropriate that a man who made his name painting the sides of docks would not be comfortable painting on normal surfaces. In some cases, Hula uses wood for his paintings, allowing his figures to flow over the natural ebb and flow of the rings. In others, he uses surfboards for cool and unique designs, a way he originally made money when he career was just launching.

Hula’s art is beautiful, focused, and turns up in the most unusual of locations. It speaks to a few histories: Hawaii’s rich cultural heritage, Hula’s own personal history as a surfer and painter, and to street art’s ongoing relationship with the spaces they choose to paint and alter with their artistic designs. In the case of Hula, he uses all three to make docks and other water spaces striking and, well, quite a bit sexier. Worse things have happened than having a beautiful woman swimming in the ocean in Hawaii. And all it took to get there was a surfboard.