The Estria Foundation’s latest project, Mele Murals, was recently completed in the small town of Waimea on the island of Hawaiʻi.
“Mele Murals is a series of murals that we are intending to do across all the islands. The larger goal is to build and sustain a public art movement, so each place that we go paint a mural, we’re partnering with youth of that area; high school age,” explains Estria Miyashiro, a world-renowned graffiti artist and the founder of The Estria Foundation.
The first school to participate was Kanu o ka ʻĀina New Century Public Charter School, where the students were involved in a week’s worth of intensive workshops.
“You’re officially the first mural so we are very excited to try and do this with you. I want you to understand that this is your community, this is your town, this is your island. You know, we are just coming from our little rock. We can share with you how we paint, how we ground and connect and ask for guidance and we hope to share with you those things and tell your stories,” Estria explains to a room full of eager students.
The students were challenged in many ways, first being tasked with selecting the mele, or songs and chants, that were to be depicted for the mural, as well as conceptualizing the imagery. One of the chosen songs was “Na Puʻu Kaulana o Waimea” written by Waimea native, Emalani Case.
“For me, I play with words, I play with language and I try to take what I see in the external world and try to put them into words. And then to see them retranslated into images is amazing!” exclaims Case.
Next step was finding a space for the mural to exist, and local art house Kahilu Theatre stepped up immediately.
“It was really important for Kahilu Theater to be a part of this project. We are the performing arts center for all of North Hawaiʻi and we have a wonderful theater and education programs, but we have been presenting the same face, the same old green walls for a long time,” says Tim Bostock, Artistic and Managing Director for Kahilu Theater.
Once songs were selected, walls were approved, and a proper blessing given, the paint party was underway, with children of all ages and from different schools getting involved.
John “Prime” Hina, founder of 808 Urban, was brought on in collaboration, as his talents as an artist and as a youth mentor were vital to the success of this first mural.
“My intentions for this was to surrender all my own personal thoughts and the way I would usually envision the mural happening and kind of like keep my mind open; that way their knowledge and their vision can come into me, through me, and then through my hands,” says Prime.
After three long days and late nights of painting the surface area totaling about 1,635 sq ft, it was time for the mural to be showcased at an unveiling event, which again, the students were put in charge of organizing.
“Well I feel like it’s important for our community to have an event like this ‘cause we’re not so used to it. It’s not only us unveiling a mural or sharing moʻolelo, but it’s also bringing us as a community together,” reflects Kay-ala Kahaulelio, an 11th grader at Kanu o Ka ʻĀina.
Bostock concludes, “It’s so much more than any of us thought it would be. It’s really wonderful. We all knew it was gonna be good. We all knew it had good heart and it was coming from the right place, but we didn’t know it would be this good! We didn’t know how many students were going to engage in the process; how much a part of their manaʻo it sprang from and we’re just delighted with the outcome… And it looks beautiful!!”