A longstanding tradition in Hawai‘i is to bring back little gifts for family and friends that share a small portion of one’s extensive travels across the Pacific. They’re usually in the form of “omiyage,” a Japanese cultural practice of buying food gifts (usually snacks) that we think best represent the region we’ve visited.
Hawai‘i has a rich collection of omiyage itself, the result of our multicultural and ethnic mix. Omiyage also happens to be the title and subject of Jared Yamanuha’s first solo show, opening in November at The Human Imagination with the help of local collector Dean Geleynse and artist John Koga, both of whom Yamanuha met while on assignment for FLUX. Displaying a new approach and sensibility to his art, Yamanuha will take familiar food brands of the islands and “re-gift” them as reconceptualized works.
“For this show, I’m ‘visiting Hawai‘i,’” Yamanuha says, “and the final photographic objects are gifts that are ‘made in Hawai‘i.’” Local folk will be familiar with the logos Yamanuha has meticulously worked with his X-acto swivel-blade knife over the course of a year and a half—a series of Hawaiian Sun juice labels, the front page of a Longs Drugs Sunday advertising tabloid, a box of Hawaiian Host chocolates, mochi from Nisshodo Candy, and manju from Two Ladies Kitchen in Hilo.
Yamanuha gravitated to photography to express himself early on, citing the American photographer William Eggleston as an initial influence on his photo work. His first art show, a collection of digital photographs of everyday objects and landscapes, took place in 2009 and was displayed at the former Borders Books & Music in Ward Center. On display were images Yamanuha found visually interesting: a shadow cast on a wooden deck, city lights shining through a broken screen window, a cluster of handmade signs and advertisements, the view of a sunset through an airplane window. The following year, Yamanuha showed at Borders again. This time around, he presented a set of digitally manipulated picture collages assembled into mandala-like shapes.
It was Geleynse who first recognized Yamanuha’s burgeoning talent after purchasing one of the mandala images from the 2010 show. It was also Geleynse who later commissioned Yamanuha to cut patterns into a photo of the Leonard’s Bakery logo, the first of the dozen pieces that now make up Omiyage.
After seeing that initial Leonard’s Bakery piece, Geleynse says he became “intrigued by Jared’s obsessive, detailed hand-cutting patterns, but also by the relationship and connection to iconic Hawaiian brands that we all can identify with in some way or another.”
Working on photo prints that are usually ten-by-fifteen inches, Yamanuha lets the shape of a particular logo design speak to him about how to cut into it while keeping the proportions. The results of his flowing cuts give an additional vibrancy and life to the familiar island designs. “It’s a celebration of the visual culture of Hawai‘i,” says Yamanuha. “Those that have seen the pieces I’ve been working on, I’m happy that they immediately get what I’m doing here. They see what this place means to me and the importance of food-related gifting. With the concept of omiyage, I’m representing these re-worked images back to the people of Hawai‘i.”
Omiyage will be on display through November at The Human Imagination, 1154 Nuuanu Ave.