The Philadelphia-based muralist began creating public art in 1998. After receiving his BFA in painting from Tyler School of Art, he chose to focus on socially engaged public art exclusively. Using art as a means to gather personal narratives, he excels at bringing people’s stories to life to create a dialogue that is cathartic and promotes empathy and understanding.
Known locally as the artist behind the 2012 Nā Wai 'Ehā mural (on Market & Main, adjacent to Request Music), which was a collaboration between Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center, County of Maui and the Laila Twigg-Smith Art Fund of Hawaii Community Foundation, Okdeh is world-renowned for creating a framework for engagement that is central to the success of each project.
Developed in response to the SMALL TOWN * BIG ART call to artists in February 2019, Okdeh's project proposal called for an inter-community exchange between students in his hometown of Philadelphia and students here in Wailuku.
"We had been talking for months about working with Baldwin and Iao Schools and how we could map out the timing, but the entire conversation changed once COVID hit," says ST*BA's Kelly McHugh-White, who worked with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program in 2012 to initially identify their referral of Okdeh as Hui No'eau's perfect match, "the timing with our re-opening, a brief gap in Eric's availability and a growing need exhibited by our community to create something new and inspiring together motivated us to move forward."
The SMALL TOWN * BIG ART request-for-proposals called for exceptional quality, style, experience in creating communal or public art, significance to Wailuku and alignment with an ʻōlelo noʻeau selected in collaboration with Sissy Lake-Farm, Director of Hale Hōʻikeʻike at the Bailey House/ Maui Historical Society. The proverb inspiring Okdeh's project is Kūlia i ka Nuʻu, (strive for the highest).
An excerpt from Okdeh's proposal reads: "Over the past 20 years I have worked in communities, schools, city governments and organizations around the country and the world to create over 150 public works of art. Every project that I take on lends itself to a different process, however the skills underlying each remain the same. Whether the stakeholders consist of juveniles, inmates, community leaders, city officials or organizations, each one requires strong communication, technical skills and teamwork. It is important to me that the public art piece I create is not the only goal of the work that I do. For me, creating rich relationships of collaboration and creativity are essential to each project. And while I have a strong tenure of experience, I value that each project allows for more growth. I believe creating a visual and cultural exchange between communities that are geographically so far apart would be an amazing opportunity for everyone involved."
In the weeks preceding Okdeh's arrival to Wailuku, the ST*BA team worked to pivot with the original proposal for hands-on workshopping with the local community and turned to social media, an online survey and video conferencing. Inspired by conversations with the Wailuku Performing Arts Alliance, an idea began to emerge to compose a mural composition that pays tribute to the Wailuku arts. Anonymous survey respondents shared that they would like to see everything from "something that truly engages the essence of Wailukuʻs Native Hawaiian cultural history and landscape" to "elements from the many immigrant communities that have contributed to what Hawaiʻi (and Wailuku) are today." Others, like Stephanie Ohigashi, Rae Takemoto, Mike Takemoto, Kirk Kurokawa, Frank de Rego, Phil Sebado, Wallette Pellegrino, Hōkūao Pellegrino and Myrna Fung came forward with more specific ideas, photos and stories, all of which have been expertly laid out in several working drafts of the mural composition.
The resulting artwork will be a collaboration amongst each of the community members that have shared their input, whether on site, via survey, during video conferences or through the images that they’ve shared - most notably through Hale Hōʻikeʻike at the Bailey House/ Maui Historical Society.
“Working with Hale Hōʻikeʻike through Sissy’s extraordinary expertise has offered so many essential elements to this project,” shares McHugh-White, “from identifying and coordinating advisers on the very specific subject matter to directing us through their extensive archives over dozens of hours, Sissy and her organization are critical to the accuracy and intensity of both Eric’s piece and of SMALL TOWN * BIG ART.”
One week remains in the installation of this new mural at the Main Street Promenade, located at 2050 Main Street in Wailuku Town. Visit us here or on social media for updates: FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM.
PC: Sean Hower