HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A piece of art that has been on display since 1996 when the Hawai'i Convention Center first opened is now covered with a black curtain, and officials say it will be removed and replaced after years of complaints from people who have objected to what it portrays. The controversy surrounds a panel, which features human remains exposed in the sand.
"I don't know what the motive of the artist was with respect to what was depicted. I certainly know that in Hawai'i and given our cultural practices – when it comes to malama iwi, which is taking care of our ancestral bones, that it's a significant sign of disrespect," explained Moses Haia, the Executive Director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation. Haia represents Paulette Ka'anohiokalani Kaleikini, a recognized cultural descendant of the area, who has complained to the Hawai'i Tourism Authority about the piece.
"Based upon her cultural responsibility to malama iwi, she met with what I believe was certain individuals with the Hawaii Tourism Authority that runs the Convention Center and requested, based upon her cultural practices, that panel be taken down because of what it stood for," Haia said.
The artwork by Hans Ladislaus is titled "Forgotten Inheritance". According to Peter Rosegg, Oahu Commissioner of the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, Ladislaus was commissioned in 1996 and his piece was selected by a committee Rosegg says included highly respected and longtime community art experts, including Native Hawaiians – none of whom objected to it.
State Arts Foundation officials say they've been trying to arrange a meeting with Ladislaus – who now lives on the mainland – and Convention Center officials, Native Hawaiian burial stakeholders and some of those who are offended by the artwork, but that meeting has not happened yet.
"The State Foundation has long hoped the situation could be resolved by ho'oponopono in a spirit of understanding and cooperation. We still do," wrote Rosegg in a statement to Hawai'i News Now.
Mike McCartney, the President and CEO of the Hawai'i Tourism Authority released this statement: "The HTA is working with the State Foundation to replace a piece of artwork in the Hawai'i Convention Center. It is important for us to honor and perpetuate our host culture and we are looking to include more pieces by Native Hawaiian artists."
A black curtain is now covering the artwork, though it's unclear how long it's been there. Rosegg says the piece is permanently mounted and installation experts say removing it without structural work on the Convention Center would destroy it.
"We are in Hawaii and the significance of the remains of our ancestors is something that we need to speak up about because of the very foundation that it provides to us as a people," said Haia.