ke ‘aka o ka li’ula (mirage)

ke ‘aka o ka li’ula/mirage (installation views), 2006, organza, pvc, lights, slide projection, wood, paper, dried lei flowers, hotel soaps, cd players, speakers, original audio, plumeria scent, 13'high x 12' wide, (MFA Thesis Exhibition, Center for Design and Visual Culture, UMBC, Catonsville, MD, April 2006)

on the impact of tourism on the land lifestyle and people of Hawaii Diana Nicholette Jeon, Master of Fine Arts, 2006Thesis directed by: Dr. Kathy O’Dell Associate ProfessorDepartment of Visual Arts

Land. Sea. Perhaps no more striking juncture of these worlds exists than in the imaginations of visitors to Hawai’i longing for a lost “Eden.” The continuing attraction of these islands represents centuries of yearnings among vastly differing groups of peoples.

The majority of my work during my Master’s program has been in the form of mixed media installation that have reflected my research, analysis and critique of the impact of tourists and tourism on the land, lifestyle and people of Hawai’i. My thesis exhibition, ke aka o ka li’ula/mirage, consists of fabricated "hotel” structures containing speakers and "islands" made of hotel soaps and dead lei flowers enclosed in circular curtained structure with early 20th century images of Hawai’i projected upon it. The globally based visitor industry sells a certain vision of paradise; with this installation I conjure such an environment and use it subversively to expand non-resident awareness of the issues confronting island residents.

I do not advocate that banishing tourism from Hawai’i will solve our problems. Rather, I believe that the tourist industry and the local government must take into account the views of island residents, and must be held accountable for considering all issues, rather than only profits, when deciding to forge ahead in the garden of greater visitors. I also believe that tourists need to be educated to better understand their impact upon the place and people that they visit, and consider traveling with a lighter footstep. As a politicized artist, both of these goals – to raise outsider’s awareness and to encourage resident’s activism - are of critical importance to me, and represent what I hope to accomplish through my work.


3 Months, 11 days...

3 Months 11 days, (detail of Panel 2 of this 7 panel installation.) Prints created from scans of the artist's that was hair lost over 101 days, attributed to the stress of being a MFA student and the mother of a 4 year old child. Prints were made by prepping roof flashing with an inkjet coating then printing in a large format Epson printer. Each panel: 10" h by 6' wide; entire work spans 420 inches. (UMBC, 2004)


samsara/hiki ke poepoe ia honua ua ‘ike (wandering on/that the world is round is already proven)

I am concerned with issues that affect my home, which despite the fact that I reside in Baltimore County currently, have to do with my true home of Hawaii.  I make art that is perhaps better suited to be seen by audiences within that state; this does not bother me, as that is that state I will return to practice my art within when I leave here.

I am very alarmed by issues within how the resources of small islands are used.  Within Hawaii, we are predicted to run out of fresh water by 2020.  By that same time, the goal of the State Dept of Businesses Enterprise, Development and Tourism(DBEDT) seeks to increase visitors to our state by over an 85 % increase above the year 1995.  The incredible amount of infrastructure and resources are more than I believe our home can withstand.  These ideals at cross purposes with each other.  I do not believe this is the best thing for my home. These ideals of tourism, transferred from the plantation mentalities of the past century, seek to enslave our state’s residents into menial service jobs paying lowly wages that leave them dependent upon not completing their full education as they are not required for these jobs, and leave them with pay that mandates housing extended families within small rented homes and working more than one full time job just to make ends meet.  I do not want my half Hawaiian son to grow up to believe these are the correct values for his lifetime. 

This work, which really points to issues that are the same for all small island nations dependent upon tourism, seeks to take a critical look at how water resources are used and distributed within these islands.  I am not content with the status quo-I seek to change mindsets within my home. To talk about attracting businesses other than tourism in one thing, to actually do something about it is not what I see when I look at the actions of the government of my state.  This work is meant to awaken thinking in regard to these issues, and how fragile our environmental economy really is,


na wai keia ike o ka lani? (for whom this view of heaven?)

na wai keia ike o ka lani? (for whom this view of heaven?) 2004 Installation, UMBC/Raleigh Graduate MFA Studios, Baltimore, MD. A time- and process-based installation that took place over 30 days. This work addressed tourism and it's impact on Hawai‘i residents. Materials consisted of imported, "cheap" hotel sized soap bars, hand-strung Hawaiian orchard leis created from Moloka‘i orchids, lights, bench, 4-track original sound score of dripping water.


Nothing I produce within my lifetime is likely to change the course of history; this is a fact of which I am all too keenly aware. Despite this, I believe the most important thing is to act as if I can.

na wai ka ‘ike o ka lani? (to whom does this view of heaven belong?) is informed by concerns borne within the community of my Hawai’i home, where I have lived for the past 10 years. During that time, I have married a ‘local’ man, conceived a hapa (part- Hawaiian) child, and hence, have built my life there. A natural outgrowth of existing in such a distant and minute society is my consternation about asset consumption within islands that have economies governed by the visitor-industry.

Dwindling natural resources, on the one hand, and the magnitude of infrastructure required to expand this industry, on the other, stand in direct opposition to each other. In Hawai’i, our government’s stated goal of attracting an ever-increasing number of dailyarrivalsionlyexacerbatesthehardshipsour‘aina(land)andourmaka’ainana(‘childrenoftheland’)mustendure. Aswith many other islands dominated by a tourist-economy, ideals for Hawai’i tourism are transplanted from the colonial plantation mentality of the past century. Dependence upon it as the major source of income enslaves residents to menial service jobs paying humble wages; it further mandates that they house large extended families within small rented homes. I do not want my half-Hawaiian son to grow up to believe that these are the decisive values upon which to build his life.

In an essay concerning political art entitled Spies and Watchmen, artist Thomas Lawson writes, “An art of representation, a flirtation with misrepresentation. An ambiguous art that seems to flatter the situation it supports while undermining it. Sweetly arbitrary, art which appears attractively irrational, but it turns out to be coldly rational; art which looks distant, but is deeply felt.” na wai ka ‘ike o ka lani? situates itself within these ideals and, through its specious beauty, seeks to create discourse about the tourism industry’s utilization of island-based capital.

Materials have a mana (power) and a life that exists due to their uses in the ‘real’ world. The objects I have chosen–1/2-ounce bars of ‘hotel’ soap and tourist leis (flower necklaces)–each have a ‘real world’ role to fulfill. I have selected these specifically for their meaning vis-a-vis Hawaiian tourism and water usage patterns on O’ahu. Yet I have chosen to subvert their more palpable characteristics in order to make them appurtenances of my own command. As this work speaks to issues that will continue to evolve over the next 16 years, the passage of time serves as a fundamental and critical element, but one that cannot be displayed during the course of the few hours in which you are able to view this work. In its ideal presentationii, na wai ka ‘ike o ka lani? would exist over the course of 30 days. During this time, the leis would transform from luxuriant fresh blossoms to dried facsimiles of their former splendor. These leis (which I fabricated) consist of orchids ordered from a small O’ahu grower; the soaps were purchased from an internet-based wholesale supplier. The sources of these materials speak volumes more than my words ever might. I find it impossible to separate the materials and their sources from larger meanings pertaining to globalization, capitalism and colonial historyiii. Additionally, the incredible extent of toil in creating the leis and arranging the installation is equally important, though little is the ultimate reward for my effort, however undermining to the system its intent may be.

Yet, I continue to act as if I can. For it is only through hope–for sustainable change in our planet’s usage of ecological and human capital; for the ability of one person to actually make a difference; for a better future for my five year-old son–that I continue to believe my work might have relevance to anyone other than me.

Ku'u Wai, Ku'u Waimaka (My Water, My Tears)

The O’ahu, Hawai’i home I left to come to Baltimore is a land alive with sea and sand; sun and rainbows; lush landscapes and jagged mountains.  It could not be more different than what I have glimpsed of Baltimore, with its blighted landscapes and polluted water, frighteningly high crime rates, and racial/segregational issues that divide the landscape in what appears to be a block by block pattern. 

In thought and attitude, Hawaii’s inhabitants derive from a differing and non-majority demographic of backgrounds.  It is, instead of a segregation of the Baltimorean black and white peoples, a mix of vastly different ones, including what remains of the indigenous Hawaiians; descendants of New England Calvinist missionaries; descendents of sugarcane plantation workers from Japan, China, Portugal and the Filipines; an assortment of Americans who arrived in Hawai’i over varying time periods for differing reasons, and more recently, various Asian and Polynesian peoples seeking refuge for a wide assortment of reasons.  Hawai’i in 2003 reflects a melding of of these cultures.  The crime rate is low, and the enjoyment of the land is high.  

Living on a Hawaiian island, water surrounds us; in the beliefs of the indigenous Hawaiian people, water has the power to give life; it forms the basis for social and atheltic pursuits; it is battled over in hard fought controversies about the apportionment of fresh water; it is also a commodity (that if change is not made in how it is dealt with, Hawai’i will run out of in 20 years.) As such, “wai” (the indigenous word for water) has a significant mana (power)  for people in Hawai’i.  It is interesting to observe that “wai” is also the indigenous word for “wealth.” 

The experience of leaving O’ahu, HI and coming to Baltimore, MD, has been a difficult adjustment for me and my family – emotionally, financially, and artistically. Within this installation, I have recreated the experience of dislocation as it has been for me.  I do not feel “safe” here. The destabilization of my psyche and my family has changed my view of wai.   Ever since I have moved here, all wai seem like tears to me, like the many I have cried since I have gotten here. They seep into my soul and blur my memories, eroding any semblence of safety I once felt, in the same way that I have placed the saline solution to “cry” over the prints. Due to the nature of dye ink, these “tears” stain, alter and fade them in ways to make them change and become ephemeral, like my now fading safe life in Hawai’i.


The Garden of Labor

Details from The Garden of Labor, 2004, Metal Pails, Digital Imaging, Magnetic White Substrate. (Aloha Hoʻomaluhia 2004, Hoʻomalhia Botanical Garden, Kane'ohe, HI,  May 2004)

Twenty years ago, a group of artists united to save the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden from the then destructive planned path of H-3 freeway. In response to the celebratory nature of this 20th anniversary exhibition, I have used a combination of drawing and historical photographs to show the importance of our gardens, and their value to us aesthetically, economically, and as a mechanism for furthering visitor appreciation to the wonder of our lisland home.



Inscrutable Equations for Growth

Detail from "Inscrutable Equations for Growth" installation. Panel 1 of 14. Handmade wood/twine "clotheslines"; clothespins; gampi paper stained in egg shapes with wine and coffee with cut windows; digital images/inkjet prints defaced with lipstick and eyeliner grafitti; lingerie; socks; mens' shirts and children's underwear. This work addressed the difficult balance of women's lives: career woman, housewife, lover, friend & mother. Gallery on the Pali, March 2003.

inscrutable equations for growth, is a mixed-media installation concerning fragmentation in the lives of women as they strive (yet ultimately fail) to juggle the numerous roles which contemporary society expects of them. Through the intentional use of trope and the mana (power) of materials, I address the varied role expectations placed upon women by both themselves and others. The installation consists of a set of 10 “towels” hung on strung clothesline.  Each is constructed from thin Japanese paper stained with wine and coffee in egg-shapes and has openings cut into the center.  Behind the opening in each “towel” is an inkjet print depicting a contemporary dilemma for women; these have that have been printed, grafitti’d with lipstick and eyeliner, then scanned and reprinted. Interspersed on the clothesline are white laundry articles, such as shirts, men’s underwear, women’s lingerie, and children’s items.  The focal article of clothing is a candy-apple red woman’s nightie, which serves to embody many of the expectations both women and men hold view for the role of women today. The installation also includes a sound sculpture, created by taking the digital prints and processing them in software that created audio files based on the pixel granularity of the image, allowing the images to create a lamenting voice of their own. 

This exhibition was reviewed by Victoria Gail White of the Honolulu Advertiser. Article can be found here:

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