From inmates to artists: New Honolulu Hale exhibit features works created behind bars

Honolulu Hale's latest exhibit features 64 works made by inmates in three different prisons.
Published: Jul. 14, 2022 at 5:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When looking at Mo Kalaikai’s artwork, what’s striking is the precision and attention to detail.

A love of art that started in grade school has stuck with him for life, even while serving a sentence in Halawa Community Correctional Center.

“When you incarcerated, you get a lot of time to do it, so I had a lot of time for do this,” Kalaikai said. “You need to survive. I had to survive inside and the only way I could do that is by what I do best and that’s drawing.”

His work is part of Honolulu Hale’s Inmate Art Exhibit, which features 64 pieces crafted by inmates from three Hawaii prisons.

The initiative was started by Worknet, Inc., a non-profit that helps inmates transition to freedom.

“When we started doing it, inmates who had talent began to recognize that this is a place they could come and do art and then it started growing from there,” said Worknet, Inc. Executive Director Chas Williams.

Kalaikai, who’s completed his sentence, helped commission the exhibit and works as an art instructor for inmates.

He says the pieces on display are a product of those incarcerated using art as a positive outlet.

They’re also an example of resourcefulness when supplies are unavailable.

“When they (inmates) need to have color for their pencil drawings, one of the ways they get color is they collect magazines,” Williams said. “They collect these magazines and they look through them for the color they want to use. They take deodorant and they rub deodorant on the magazine color and then transfer it to their artwork.”

And now creativity from the inside is up for the community to see.

“I think art is just as important to all of us as a means of expression that crosses socio-economic lines, geographic lines,” said Makanani Sala, executive director for the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts.

“It creates a feeling, so it’s something we can instantly respond to.”

The exhibit will be on display through mid-August.

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