“You have your brush, you have your colors, you paint the paradise, then in you go.” —Nikos Kazantzakis
The night after the last presidential election, I met up with a couple of friends to eat Mexican food in Chinatown.
We were in immediate shell shock upon learning whom this country’s leader was about to be. Being in Hawai‘i, diverse and loyally blue, we admitted our casual ignorance of the reality that there is a very real voting block of very real people forcible enough to bring such a man into office. We ate our tacos, talked story over cheap beer, felt despondent and defenseless, but comforted by each other’s company. Eventually, the conversation turned to art. As citizens in creative industries—both of the friends are curators for galleries and museums—we chatted about what we could contribute in our small ways to this pressing moment, about where the intersections between our day jobs and resistance might meet. Editors, creative directors, and curators are often viewed in the community as gatekeepers (though I would campaign for a less possessive and hierarchical term, such as custodian or steward), and part of the job is to have a historical and instinctual sense for the current zeitgeist, where it’s been, where it is, and more importantly, where it should go.
The fortunate consequence of unfortunate times is that it often produces a formidable stream of art across disciplines. I remember relishing the opinions of my friends about what we might demand of our artists moving forward. We came to a consensus that the work doesn’t require an explicit political message, but if you’re not going to magnify, decentralize, or challenge a point of view, if your reflex is to remain pedestrian and not be deeply personal, then why even do it? As individual rights come under daily assault by this administration, it is not a time for artists to be shy about who they are, what they feel, what they think. This is certainly not the time for painting rainbows over mountains and calling it art.
Since art by its nature is in pursuit of some kind of ideal, for this issue on Utopias, it felt necessary to share who we consider to be vanguards in this regard. As producers of conversation-sparking pieces in their own rights, we wanted to present working artists in conversation (page 116) to illustrate the expansive and imaginative ways we can approach, navigate, and think about our world.
This issue also reaffirms that we need to broaden our definition of an artist. If the role of one is to shift another’s consciousness, then Hawai‘i’s scientists engineering super corals (page 50), Hawaiian language speakers naming interstellar discoveries (page 42), and an uncle teaching the next generation how to cleave closer to the land (page 66) are also artists. Whether they succeed or fail, there is something utopian about a world where people are endlessly striving.
Merwin’s Revolution A close friend and relative of the late poet William Stanley Merwin, writer Robert Becker reflects on the lyricism of the poet’s prophetic work in prose and palms.
Restoring Kure After seven months spent on Kure Atoll, a conservationist reflects on its remote and challenging conditions.
Tokyo Drifting In a perfect reality, how often should we really be logging in to check out our online selves? A full-time social media strategist reevaluates the role that online social networks play in her life.
How Hawai‘i’s Museums Are Decolonizing Its Spaces In recent years, museums across the nation have wrestled with decolonizing their institutions. Three Hawai‘i institutions and a new grassroots tour are making efforts to represent familiar narratives and artifacts in reclaimed contexts.