Kauhale Message

Hawai‘i CC professor teams up with internationally renowned musician to create innovative art exhibit

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Hawai‘i Community College Professor Dr. Taupōuri Tangarō stands with examples of the regalia he created.

HILO — The art exhibit created during the past year by Hawai‘i Community College Professor Dr. Taupōuri Tangarō and the musician Keali‘i Reichel was, in a sense, 34 years in the making.

In 1980 as a 17-year-old high school student, Tangarō was volunteering at the Lyman Museum in Hilo. There, he read archival information about corded pā‘ū, which are ritual corded skirts found on ki‘i, or carved images.

“The ki‘i are in a dance pose and have these corded skirts,” Tangarō, now a Hawai‘i Life Styles Professor at Hawai‘i CC, says. “I was intrigued with that. My 17-year-old mind was intrigued by something I’d never seen — the photo with the ki‘i with the pāʻū. Now that I’m 51, I’ve finally arrived at a point in my life where I was able not just to recreate that but to innovate that.”

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The results of Tangarō’s innovations are on display at the Hawai‘i CC campus in Hilo. Corded skirts; kōkōpu‘upu‘u, which are traditional knotted carrying nets; large photos; corded sashes; and other unique types of regalia decorate the exhibition space in Piʻopiʻo Hale.

What unites the exhibit is the use of traditional Hawaiian knotting techniques.

Interspersed with the corded clothing are traditional kōkōpuʻupuʻu that contain wooden bowls.

Renowned singer and scholar in residence at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Keali‘i Reichel created kōkōpu‘upu‘u, which are traditional knotted carrying nets, for the exhibit.

Reichel, who is a scholar in residence at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, collaborated on the exhibit and made the kōkōpu‘upu‘u. An expert in traditional knotting, Reichel taught Tangarō the ancient techniques. As a hula practitioner, Tangarō naturally took some of those knotting techniques and used them for wearable articles.

“I needed to figure out how to take that and make it into regalia,” Tangarō says.

Though based in tradition, the regalia resemble couture fashion.

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“It’s traditional in many points but really innovative in the sense that this is not exactly what it looked like in the old days,” says Tangarō. “We’ve taken something very old and reordered it.”

The blend of tradition and innovation is at the heart of a University of Hawai‘i initiative called Hawai‘i Papa O Ke Ao, which seeks to make UH a global example of a modern indigenous-serving institution.

“Like kōkōpu‘upu‘u, we come from well-defined cultural practices, but with innovation we can take those cultural practices and introduce them in a new light,” says Tangarō.

The exhibit is also a way of expressing our connectedness, he says.

“When we step into this seemingly Hawaiian exhibition with couture outcroppings, we want to celebrate the traditional and innovative, but bigger than that is the desire to celebrate the cord that connects us all and reminds us we might be isolated in the middle of the world or ocean but we have a cord that connects us to the entire world and the world to us,” says Tangarō. “This exhibit is about celebrating that connection in a way that is Hawaiian.”

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Please contact Dr. Taupōuri Tangarō at taupouri@hawaii.edu for a Spring 2015 viewing of the exhibit.




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