Dana Paresa paints the everyday, brought to its absurd height.
Amongst other projects, Dana Paresa works at a coffee shop in Kaka‘ako, a growing expanse of warehouses at the center of Honolulu between touristy Waikiki and urban downtown. The coffee shop is flanked on the Diamond Head side by a corner store, and on the Ewa side, a modest art gallery. The corner store she passes daily is one of the few places left in town where you can get a few of the basic necessities of everyday living: a 75 cent boiled egg, off-brand soda, single pack condoms, rolling papers and a slightly bruised ice cream bar – all in a little black bag.
For her show Little Black Bag at ii Gallery, Paresa depicted the local folks she sees next door at work, never looking more than a few feet away for inspiration. Because she is of this place (grew up in Kailua, went to Kamehameha Schools, then on to the University of Hawai‘i to study art), there was no need to escape in order to experience the authentic. The portraits float off the wall as oversized acrylics on press board. There’s good fun in the garish, bold, splashes of color, the exaggeration of neck bulges, crow’s feet, goiters, tumors and lazy eyes. These are characters that would feel at home in a Rap Repleinger skit. These are characters that hopefully will not disappear when the neighborhood is inevitably torn down and rebuilt by landowners and a (still maybe) rail system.
What is notable about the show is what is lacking in it. Though the portraits are odd, there is no dehumanizing aspect in the depiction of aunties, braddahs and shifty folks living near the margins of society. It is not mean. By installing the pieces at eye (and mouth) level, one gets the sense that these folks are talking to each other, and you, the viewer.
Facing Diamond Head, a jaundice-colored auntie with a pink beehive and door knocker earrings sloppily enjoys a Melona ice cream bar. Facing her on the opposite wall is a green woman cruising in an ill-fitting bra with lips tattooed on her neck and Kaka’akool on her belly in the arc made famous by Tupac Shakur’s Thug Life tat; a bloated, recovering addict cousin of She Hulk.
Stand in the gallery and hear the conversation between these folks. It’s hilarious. Hang out in Kaka‘ako for a few hours, and you’ll realize how authentic Paresa’s work is to the now.