The gathering place

Follow local Honolulu skaters Rene Matthyssen and Chris Kays on a tour through Kaka'ako, transformed through massive murals.

The paint is dry, the murals fawned over and the community is still stoked on the amount of beauty and aloha that was shared during the week of Pow Wow Hawaii 2013. This annual mural festival, which featured more than international 70 artists, hits its apex with a block party at the monthly Honolulu Night Market in Kaka'ako on Saturday, Feb. 16. Oahu's nickname is "The Gathering Place" and Kaka'ako is a fitting setting for Pow Wow Hawaii, says the event's founder and co-leader, Jasper Wong.

"Pow Wow Hawaii is a gathering," Wong explains. "It's a gathering of all these artists to Hawaii to beautify a neighborhood, share their stories, paint and to hang out together. Bringing in this many people from all over the world -- artists, media and locals -- and having them be together in one place for over a week, you can't help but notice that there is something amazing going on in Hawaii. It's making noise and I think it will help [sustain the local community and economy] in the long run."

Walled in: Pow Wow Hawaii 2013

This year's gathering eclipsed the previous three years' events in terms of community outreach, satellite events, size and scope. Organizers added a music school and Lana Lane Studios to the itinerary for 2013. Despite this exponential growth, however, things went relatively well according to Wong.

"Pow Wow Hawaii 2013 was actually smoother than what I thought it was going to be," he admits. "The murals came out amazing and the art and music school went really well. Pulling together the art and music school was one of the big things ... [T]he team we have did a standup job and we're going to see the fruits of their labor."

Aaron Yoshino/

Pow Wow crew, cut.

The young musicians and block party were entertaining new features, but the Pow Wow Hawaii core is its murals. There were more than 24 different pieces painted around Kaka'ako, differing in size and subject matter. San Jose, Calif.'s Sam Rodriguez, a returning artist, enjoyed the wide range of wall choices.

"My favorite part of Pow Wow Hawaii was painting, because I love to paint," explained Rodriguez, "but what's good is you get to do larger scales because ... over here, they let you choose different spots."

Rodriguez collaborated with his longtime friend and colleague, Orly Locquiao, on a Pow Wow Hawaii 2013 mural. Although both artists have worked closely together for the past four years designing for Cukui Clothing, this event was the first time they painted a piece together.

The opportunity to collaborate and connect with fellow artists and art fans is one of the main draws to Pow Wow Hawaii. For Askew1, a graffiti artist from Auckland, New Zealand, the highlight of his experience was collaborating with artists he looked up to as a kid.

"I grew up really admiring Scien, Klor and Slick," explains Askew1. "I actually jacked my first characters from Slick and other artists from his era, so that was cool. My favorite part of Pow Wow was about the people for me -- going to places and connecting with like-minded people that I haven't encountered before ... [T]hat aspect has been really nice, especially because there has been 50 of us staying in one house. It's a good opportunity to get to know other artists that would normally be in separate hotel rooms or crashing out at different houses."

Aaron Yoshino/

An impromptu crocheted art installation by Pow Wow artist Hanna Banana.

In addition to connecting with other artists, Pow Wow Hawaii participants also had a chance to experience the aloha spirit firsthand. Jeff Hamada, a painter and one-time snowboard graphic designer from Vancouver, British Columbia, has been coming to Honolulu for this mural festival for the last three years and is always stoked to interact with the locals. This year while he was painting he had an opportunity to feel aloha from a couple of random business-owners in Kaka'ako.

"I think what was cool is the guy that owned a shop near where we were painting would come out, give us water and make sure we were really taken care of," explains Hamada. "Another guy would come bring us sandwiches everyday ... [I]t's amazing how all the artists feel loved on by coming to Hawaii and the community coming up to us, so I almost feel like we get more out of it than the community. I think we're actually more fueled and reenergized from trying to do something for the community."

Not only was Hamada blown away by the giving nature of the Kaka'ako community, but he also is in awe of Honolulu's growth as a hub of modern art. Pow Wow Hawaii is putting Oahu on the map in the art scene, he explains.

"It's crazy to me that when this started, the amount of murals here was a lot smaller than [in] Vancouver, and now, after three years, [Pow Wow Hawaii] eclipses many major cities with the amount of walls that are painted," Hamada says. "To me, it fully represents what is happening in contemporary art and public-art murals. In three years it's pretty mind blowing how Honolulu has become a city that is at the forefront of street art culture, so I think it's something to be really proud of."

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