On Monday, August 22, 2022, a new SMALL TOWN * BIG ART (ST*BA) mural dedicated to Wailuku’s distinctive sense of place, history and culture will be unveiled at 33 Market Street in Wailuku by artist Edwin Ushiro. The community is encouraged to join a 4:30 PM blessing of the public artwork and space by Uncle Bill (William) Garcia, which will be followed by remarks from both the artist and community members with whom he worked to design the piece.
Inspired by an audio recorded talk-story between Cultural Historian & Resource Specialist Kepā Maly of Kumu Pono Associates LLC and Lopaka White of the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission, Edwin spent two months working with the ST*BA team and community consultants to help root his design in its ultimate sense of place. The work is entitled Wailuku Ho’okele / Wailuku Wayfinders.
“It was interesting to hear from the recording of Lopaka White and Kepā Maly that the true meaning of ʻĪao isn’t fully understood, although we know that one of its meanings is the name for Jupiter,” shares Ushiro, “Knowing that the ancient Hawaiians were phenomenal navigators, one can only assume that they understood the constellations. That idea of the constellations guiding us around would be a great symbol for these stories that help us find our way to our origins and history—our “wayfinders” or ho’okele.”
The artist’s design encases water within the building’s recessed window shapes in an attempt to place the viewer on the open sea. Each of three windows contain an imagined constellation that “acknowledges the oneness with the universe.” They are: 1) Iwikuamoʻo bone back lizard, Hōkūleʻa shines in orange-red; 2) Ka Lupe o Kawelo - Lupe or sting ray; and 3) Ka Makau Nui o Māui - Maui’s Fish Hook with Maui.
In preparation for his communal design process, Ushiro met with storytellers Kepā Maly and Lopaka White, Steve Parker of 33 Market Street, Aunty Leola Leong and Ron Muromoto, Archaeologist Erik Fredericksen and Hale Hōʻikeʻike at the Bailey House / Maui Historical Society's Sissy Lake-Farm – with all recordings available on his project page at https://www.smalltownbig.org/ushiro.html. Regarding this intensive community consultation process, the artist shared:
“The community engagement offered access from many angles on how the importance of a mural can help to preserve history and oral traditions. After that experience, I can see how these engagements allowed me to visually connect the aligning stars to tell the story of how we got here. Kepā Maly spoke of quality over quantity. So I trimmed the fat of information. Lopaka White offered his experience of leading with the gut and the connection and awareness to nature. So the placement in the sea was an obvious solution. Steve Parker revealed that Wailuku town was built on immigrants. There is that ocean reference again. Leola Leong reminded me of the fondness and carefree days of youth. So I thought to draw the outline of the figure as if this were a game of connect the dots. Erik Frederiksen spoke about order and process that allowed me to create structure in this illustration.I hope our community members will be satisfied with this illustration. I look forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts and producing something special for our Wailuku town. Mahalo nui for this opportunity.”
Kepā Maly shares, "While our modern view is that 'the landscape has changed so it is no longer sacred,' that’s irrelevant in the Hawaiian perspective, because the mana is still there. And so, even as the land changes, you go home there’s still something that attracts you to place; those touchstone things, the views that you see in the distance. While the old mom-and-pop store or the home that you grew up in -- while those things may have changed, there are experiences that are embedded within the landscape that are always there. We might call them intangible, but to those who have been raised in a place, those intangibles are as tangible as the physical remains. Don't forget that you were of this place first."
About the Artist: Edwin Ushiro’s work resonates with the echoes of his boyhood in the “slow town” of Wailuku, Maui. While structuring his work around the narrative tradition of “talk story” native to the Hawaiian islands, he interweaves the uncanny obake tales of his Japanese heritage. After earning a BFA with Honors in Illustration from Art Center College of Design, he worked in the entertainment industry as a storyboard artist, concept designer and visual consultant. More recently, he has exhibited in venues worldwide, including Villa Bottini in Italy, Grand Palais in France, the Museum of Kyoto, HoMA, and the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. A monograph of his work entitled "Edwin Ushiro: Gathering Whispers" was published in 2014 with editions by Zero+ Publishing in the United States and Diagon Alley in China. In recent years, he has participated in several POW! WOW! mural festivals in Honolulu and Long Beach, as well as the Windows of Little Tokyo public art festival in Los Angeles. He lives and works between Los Angeles and Maui.