Frames and counterframes: envisioning contemporary Kanaka Maoli art in Hawai'i
Since the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893 and the subsequent illegal annexation of the Islands by the United States in 1898, Native Hawaiians (Kānaka Maoli) have vigilantly contested U.S. colonialism in Hawaiʻi and have resolutely sought to defend and affirm their existence as the still sovereign people of their homeland through political, legal, cultural, and artistic means. While the first three instances of indigenous resistance have been well documented in numerous books, journal
... rticles, and theses, there remains a largely untapped field of academic enquiry concerning the role of contemporary Kanaka Maoli art within this milieu. This dissertation seeks to close the gap with an examination of how Native Hawaiian artists use the visual arts as a tool to assert their socio-political aspirations, affirm their sovereign identity, and disrupt the colonial status quo by representing themselves on their own terms. Here, the visual arts function as an abstract expression of Native power. As an analytical anchor, I use Tuscarora scholar Jolene Rickard's term "visual sovereignty" to investigate three discrete contexts in which Kanaka Maoli art is produced: "high" art, commercial art, and public art. For the purpose of this study, I define visual sovereignty as an aesthetic strategy through which Kanaka Maoli artists articulate an indigenous-centered perspective that conveys Native epistemologies, ongoing political struggles, and ancestral connection to place. An examination of contemporary Kanaka Maoli art using this paradigm has not yet been advanced in the Hawai'i context but a growing body of scholarship by Native American and First Nations academics and art practitioners indicates the indispensability of opening up a discussion that attends to Kanaka Maoli visual culture as an articulation of indigenous sovereignty. This thesis is a nascent step toward that end.