Eyes on the future


POSTED: Sunday, September 27, 2009

Solomon Enos is a native Hawaiian artist with eyes set toward the future: future generations, future planet, future styles of communication. Yet he keeps a steady grasp on the past in the belief that connection to traditional culture and knowledge is vital to successfully stepping forward.

“;It's important to educate people here about the sophistication of the indigenous people of Hawaii, because we're all indigenous people from somewhere,”; he said. “;As an artist, I want to try to take the values and translate them through art to show that they're universal. I want to share how values of sustainability are universal.

“;To be able to survive in a globalized society, we have to hang on to what makes Hawaii unique but is paradoxically universal.”;





        See his work at these exhibits:

» “; Ho'oulu: The Inspiration of Hula,”; through July 17 at the Hawaii State Art Museum, 586-0900


» “;Hi'iakaikapoliopele: Visual Stories by Contemporary Native Hawaiian Artists,”; through Oct. 24, Maui Arts & Cultural Center, 242-2787




Enos illustrated the monumental, 500-page book project “;The Epic Tale of Hi'iakaikapoliopele,”; written and translated by Puakea Nogelmeier (Awaiaulu Press, 2008, $40), which uses 375 chants to tell the legend of Pele's younger sister Hiiaka.

The book, published in both Hawaiian and English, is regarded as an important documentation of Hawaiian culture. Besides chronicling the legend, it offers a wealth of insight about customs, social and religious practices, poetry, hula and healing arts.

The tale, which has Hiiaka traveling through the ahupuaa of every island, illustrates the ancient Hawaiians' practice of sustainability, making it timely today. As such, the work provided Enos a link between his heritage and that of his vision for the future.

“;For me the book became a cornerstone in my career as an artist,”; said Enos.

The project inspired Enos' following work, a comic strip chronicling the adventures of ancient Hawaiians that ran weekly in the Honolulu Advertiser in 2006 and 2007.

The serial caught the attention of organizers of the Asia Pacific Triennial Contemporary Art Exhibition, being held in the Gallery of Modern Art in Queensland, Australia, in December. Enos is the sole Hawaii artist participating.

Next, the serial will be republished as a graphic novel, “;Polyfantastica.”; The work reflects Enos' belief that the means by which culture is shared is as important as the content itself, especially when it involves a young audience.

“;I grew up with comic books and video games, and as an artist, I'm getting into filmmaking, animation and games. It's an extension of the storytelling tradition,”; he said. “;It reminds me of when the printing press arrived in Hawaii. Technology allowed stories to survive.

“;When we continue to translate our ideas into new media, it speaks to the evolutionary process, that indigenous nature to survive. (It also fits with) Hawaiian archetypes: Kamapuaa was a shape shifter. He could turn from a pig to a humuhumunukunukuapuaa. There's a powerful analogy to our indigenous culture. We can shape-shift our way of keeping information so we can thrive in a new way.”;

Enos said “;Polyfantastica”; reflects not just this new-media model, but it employs the literary genres of science fiction and fantasy, as well.

“;There are many kinds of comic books out there, but they're usually Euro- or Asia-centric. There's nothing from the Pacific on a broad scale. These stories are rooted in epic traditional stories of the Pacific, of Polynesian mythology. They can realign people with culture. That's often the role of sci-fi and fantasy writing. (Author) Kurt Vonnegut uses sci-fi to look at the world we're already in, in a new way.”;

The artist is working on a new online fantasy project, involving “;Polyfantastica”; as an overarching theme, that encourages viewers to contribute a la Wikipedia. Enos will provide a time line to which people can add their own stories or artwork.

“;It taps into what's already happening with games,”; he said. “;Kids are logging on and creating their own worlds and communities; they personalize it. They're not passive; they are encouraged to have a voice and become storytellers themselves.”;

Interestingly enough, though Enos is pursuing new media to share Hawaiian culture and art, he grew up in Makaha without the most basic of screen media, television. His father—an artist who encouraged Enos' lifelong love of drawing—and mother decided against the influence of television in their household.

In the tradition of Vonnegut, Enos said using technology “;is a paradox.”;

“;I want to create games that inspire people to turn off the game,”; he said. “;I want them to digest the mythology ... for there to be an understanding that the story itself is sentient, that it reflects the Hawaiian value system. And I want them to go out and explore that.”;