Photographer's lawsuit claims hula image stolen
The accused artist says she dances hula and created an image of her favorite traditional pose
A TRADITIONAL hula pose is the central issue in a dispute caused by artist Kim Taylor Reece's lawsuit against a Kailua gallery.
Reece's suit alleges that the Treasures Art Gallery displayed a stained-glass artwork that is identical to one of his popular photographs, "Makanani," which he copyrighted in January 1988.
According to a court document, Reece's photo was taken at Kailua Beach and had been reprinted in various publications, as well as thousands of posters and greeting cards.
"When you put it together ... they look identical," he said, noting the issue is between two artists.
The artwork's creator, backed by a Hawaiian group, denies copying Reece's photograph and says the subject is portrayed in a well-known hula pose.
Gallery owner Gail Allen said Reece saw the stained-glass artwork on display at the gallery in mid-May. She said Reece's wife, Kanoe, told her to take the artwork down, and Reece's lawyer, Paul Maki, told her to remove it from display and threatened her with a lawsuit.
Allen said she complied. But a month later, she put it back on display after she had spoken with the artist, Marylee Leialoha Colucci. "I decided to support her 100 percent. I believe she has a right to display her art," Allen said, noting that the piece is on consignment and is currently not for sale because of the lawsuit.
The suit was filed by Reece on Sept. 7, followed by the request for a preliminary injunction against Allen and the gallery to bar the artwork's display. A hearing on the injunction request is scheduled to be heard Dec. 11 by U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright.
Colucci, who has been creating stained-glass art for the past nine years, said, "I did not copy his pose. This is something I drew. I'm Hawaiian and a hula dancer. This is my art, and I do that in my art form.
"My whole family dances hula. I have nieces that dance hula, sisters that dance hula," she said.
Her piece, affectionately called "Hula Girl," shows a faceless hula dancer with a maile lei that falls below her waist, with kupee or bracelets around her wrists and ankles.
The woman is pictured in Colucci's favorite traditional hula motion or pose -- called ike -- where a dancer is in a kneeled position, leaning back, with one hand extended upward and the other arm bent with the hand near her face.
In the background is the Mokulua Islands. Colucci said the piece is one of a kind and has not been mass-produced.
At a news conference held at the gallery yesterday, Vicky Holt Takamine of the Ilioulaokalani Coalition said, "What he wants is exclusive rights to this image, this position, this pose."
COURTESY OF KIM TAYLOR REECE
"Makanani" is the sepia photograph that Kim Taylor Reece claims has been copied without permission.
TAKAMINE, a kumu hula for the past 30 years, said Reece does not have ownership of any hula positions.
"These are movements that we've done for 2,000 years that have been passed down from generation to generation. He cannot own this position. What he owns is his photograph of that particular model," she said.
"It's really disturbing and upsetting for everyone involved," said attorney Camille Kalama of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., who is representing the gallery.
In the court document, Reece accuses Colucci of copying his photograph.
"Both dancers have their left arms in the same position, with the left hand on the same place of the face. Both have their right arms pointing up and with kupee (bracelets) of identical thickness, position and makeup on both," Reece said.
"Both images are shown at the same angle, with the viewer looking up, with the dancers in the same posture. In both, the dancer's legs are together. The windblown hair on the dancers is very similar," he further stated in the court document.
"I'm not saying I own the pose. What I'm saying is that she copied my image," Reece said yesterday. To say that he owns any hula position is ridiculous, he said.
"If I don't protect my images, it puts it out in the public domain, and I lose them," Reece said. "That particular image is one I created and one that I sketched out before I photographed it."
He said he shot the photo while lying down in the water at Kailua Beach while the model was kneeling on the sand. "I was looking (at) more of a feeling of being uplifted. That's why I did it from that angle," he said.
Reece has been a photographer in Hawaii for 26 years. He has two galleries, one at Sacred Falls and another in Kona.
"For people to come out and attack him is really a shame. It's a gross misunderstanding of what the copyright protection really is," said his attorney, Maki.