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Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, October 10, 2000

Honolulu Academy of Arts
"Destiny," at Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Landscapes, snakes
on the art scene

This year's Artists of Hawaii
show is low on shock value,
high on tropical landscapes

The many-sided snake

By Suzanne Tswei

ART lovers have grown accustomed to the shock of the new every year at the "Artists of Hawaii" exhibit at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. But this year, the surprise may be the pleasant landscapes of the sort that look good above the sofa and won't raise eyebrows.

"The word I am hearing back is that there is a nice feel of Hawaii to the show," said Jennifer Seville, the academy's curator of Western art. "I think people are responding to the representational landscapes. For some reason, this year there are a lot of wonderful paintings, and they are Hawaiian landscapes."

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that this year's juror was Wayne Thiebaud, a San Francisco artist known for his exuberant landscapes.

Out of 1,113 entries submitted by 454 artists, Thiebaud culled 94 pieces by 92 artists for the annual statewide, all-media exhibit. Cash awards were given to:

Bullet Sanit Khewhok, Alfred Preis Memorial Award for Visual Arts, $150
Bullet Chris Campbell, Jean Charlot Foundation Award for Excellence, $500
Bullet Tom Maloney, GYM-Honolulu Award for Artistic Achievement, $400
Bullet Courtney Morihiro, Cynthia Eyre Award, $500
Bullet Charles Cohan, Roselle Davenport Award for Artistic Excellence, $1,000
Bullet George Okuhara, Reuben Tam Award for Painting, $500
Bullet Dennis McGeary, Melusine Award for Painting, $1,000
Bullet Yida Wang, Baciu Visual Arts Award, $3,000

Honolulu Academy of Arts
Renee Iijima's "Sleep," on exhibit at
Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Many facets of the
symbolism of the snake
inspire artist Rene Iijima

By Suzanne Tswei

THE snake first crept up in 1997. It was a shadowy figure behind two geishas in the garden. This time, the snake is out of the grass and right up front -- coiled snuggly around artist Renee Iijima's neck in her self-portrait.

The snake is what sets tongues wagging at Iijima's one-woman exhibit, "The Scented Garden," at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Her solo exhibit runs concurrently with the "Artists of Hawaii 2000" exhibition through Nov. 26.

"There's something about snakes that people react to. They are either intrigued by the snake, or they are deathly afraid of it," Iijima says.

She didn't intend to use the snake to get attention; she simply likes snakes. She finds them a little scary, but she also sees beauty in their sinuous shape. The cold-blooded animal that caused havoc in the Garden of Eden is a metaphor rich with the various complexities of life, she says.

Western belief puts the snake squarely on the side of evil. But in Eastern religion, which fascinates Iijima, the snake is a more complicated creature. It can be both good and bad: a symbol of rejuvenation and wickedness.

"The thing about the snake is that it's so charged with meanings. As soon as you see it, all kinds of things come up in your mind. It's really a wonderful imagery," Iijima says.

The snake she used came from a photograph in a magazine. It is one of two snakes wrapped around a young man's neck. She clipped it out, photocopied it and spliced it with a photocopy of her own portrait.

Iijima colored the photocopies with graphite and color pencil, crumpled the paper, burned a hole at her breast and heart before assembling them into a shadow box. The snake was given a yellowed paper skin of words taken from one of her favorite short stories, "Death in Venice" by Thomas Mann.

In her self-portrait, titled "Sleep," the snake is neither benevolent nor sinister although it looks pretty dangerous. Iijima wants it to represent the rational mind, an obstacle that one must overcome to obtain spiritual truth.

"Truth is something you have to experience directly, so the mind, the rational side of you, is kind of in the way. People think they can use their intellect or power of reasoning to find truth. But to me, truth is not in the written words or in the mind," Iijima says.

Iijima isn't sure she's close to discovering the truth in life, but she has learned a few things about herself through her art over the years.

"Some of my work can make people uncomfortable, and I guess the snake is an example of that. I understand it's not something people would want to hang in their living room. But that's OK. My work is very personal.

"The things in my pieces may not have any importance to other people, but they have meanings to me. I make my art for me. I know I am not the kind of artist who can make a lot of money with their work," Iijima says.

At least Iijima has garnered critical acclaim, if not commercial gains. She has won numerous awards and was the 1999 recipient of the prestigious Catharine E.B. Cox Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts presented by the Honolulu Academy of Arts. The award, given in conjunction with a solo exhibit at the academy, is granted to artists who have demonstrated talent and promise, particularly young or emerging visual artists.

Born and raised in Honolulu, Iijima studied art at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., Honolulu Community College, San Francisco Art Institute and other institutions. She is best known for her photography and mixed-media constructions dealing with themes of family, memory, identity and mortality.

On view

Bullet What: "The Scented Garden: Mixed-Media Work by Renee Iijima" and "Artists of Hawaii 2000"
Bullet When: When: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 26
Bullet Where: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 900 S. Beretania St.
Bullet Cost: $7; $4 for seniors, students and military; free for members and children 12 and younger; free to the public on the first Wednesday monthly
Bullet Call: 532-8700

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