An energetic cadre of Hawai'i academics, curators and forward-thinking entrepreneurs are busy building the Honolulu Biennial, an event designed to dramatically place the islands into the international art world and establish a leadership in the aggressive art market of the Pacific Rim. The Honolulu Biennial arrives a time when global art sales climb a record peak of over $66 billion dollars.
A biennial is an international art exhibition that appears every two years. The work is contemporary, an expression of the here and now. The curator is the star of the show, an art world authority who will design the exhibition to reflect our times and the state of the world in which we live. A biennial is an exchange of ideas and diplomatic relations. International by nature, a biennial presents a focus on the host city and its artists. The first biennial was founded in Venice, Italy, in 1895. Today, there are over 300 such exhibitions across the globe.
Aloha was the spark that ignited the idea for an international biennial in Hawai'i. In 2007, Isabella Ellaheh Hughes was in New York working as an intern at an exhibition at the New School. In the dour crowd of New York intellectuals, she spied a man with a warm smile and she introduced herself to Dr. KJ Baysa. Realizing that they were both born in Hawai'i, a friendship developed fast and strong. Aloha and a love of their homeland was the glue.
In 2011, Hughes was curating a show "This IS Hawai'i" at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. Baysa came to show his support and they began to discuss the many ways to bring the Hawai'ian islands and her artists into the international forum. Encouraged by their good friend painter Masami Teraoka, the idea of a Honolulu Biennial was born.
Isabella Ellaheh Hughes is easy to find in a crowd; her warm smile and intelligent eyes are irresistible. Born and raised on O'ahu, Bella the spry child preferred the Bishop Museum and the Honolulu Museum of Art to the soccer fields and sandy beaches. While attending Punahou, she spent her summers volunteering at the museum and supporting their annual ArtSpree. "As a kid, the museums introduced and exposed me to the rich history, artistic and cultural traditions of not just of Hawai'i-nei, but the world." With a love for the arts, Hughes earned her BA in Art History from Boston University and an MA in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University. Today, Hughes lives an active, global life. She is a Contributing Editor for ArtAsiaPacific Magazine, a busy curator and now the Co-Founder of the Honolulu Biennial. She spends five months of the year in the Middle East where her husband is employed, five months in Honolulu with family and the rest of the year bouncing between art events around the world. All of that is about to change as Hughes thinks pink in anticipation of her second child. The young family is making ready to settle back home on O'ahu.
His specialty in allergy and clinical immunology has allowed him to practice in Albuquerque, San Francisco, New York and Honolulu. KJ Baysa was born at the Waialua General Hospital on the North Shore and attended high school at the Mid-Pacific Institute. While completing his medical training at the University of California San Francisco, Baysa could not ignore the bright and shining creativity and arts energy of the city. He slowly began to wade into these waters, visiting galleries, writing articles and sponsoring shows. He dove in head first with his admission into the prestigious Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, a Petri dish for the world's best curators. Baysa has been collecting awards, fellowships and honors since. To date, he has been the curator of over sixty exhibitions with no signs of slowing down. As a man of science, his artistic interest lies in the many ways that the body experiences the sensations of sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. The ever-smiling father of seven and grandfather of three believes that Hawai'i is the heart of the Chain of Fire. "Many say that Hawai'i is the middle of nowhere or the center of everything," says Baysa, "I believe it's the latter."
Baysa and Hughes have been marching to a Pahu beat that grows in tempo and volume. This summer, their Honolulu Biennial Foundation participated with the Museum of Modern Art PS1 in a show titled "Rockaway" at Rockaway Beach half way around the world in New York. This October 30 through November 9, the foundation will present a preview of their 2016 grand debut. The show, a "prologue exhibition" is called Chain of Fire with the work of ten local and international artists. Most impressive, the 2016 Honolulu Biennial will be curated by Fumio Nanjo, the director of the contemporary Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. Nanjo is consider one of the top five curators in Asia; in Japan, they call him sensei.
Katherine Ann Leilani Tuider has been wanting to go home. Born in Aiea, Tuider was raised in cities across the mainland, moving an average of every three years. Her wanderlust has sent her around the world. She graduated Magna Cum Laude and with Honors from the University of Pennsylvania. She was a Peace Corp volunteer in the Dominican Republic and her MBA was just recently earned in Paris, France. This wise, young woman has armed herself well. She is an expert grant writer in several languages. She is a multifaceted arts professional with extensive experience in donor development, tax evaluation, cultural project financing, marketing, fundraising and accounting. With the world as her oyster, Tuider just wanted to go home to Hawai'i. This was unlikely, as there are few positions for her considerable talents on the islands.
Hughes and Baysa are the bright, artistic and curatorial rays; the Honolulu Biennial needed a sun. They tossed their makau into the sea with an internet ad. Tuider saw the opportunity, called the founders and within days, she had the job. Katherine Tuider is now the Director of Development and Community Outreach for the Honolulu Biennial Foundation.
Hawai'i is the center of everything. The idea to bring these arts to an international audience is not new; many have been working over time with the same goal. As KJ Baysa says, "We are standing on strong shoulders. The Honolulu Biennial will take it one step further."
The Honolulu Biennial's "Chain of Fire" offers a long series of exhibitions and programs, October 30 through November 9 in and around the Kaka'ako neighborhood. Information can be found at www.honolulubiennial.org
Gordy Grundy is an O'ahu based artist and arts writer. His visual and literary work can be found at www.GordyGrundy.com