Punahou Bulletin

A Magazine for the Punahou School Family

Spring 2018

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Q&A with Artist-in-Residence John “Prime” Hina

From April 2 – 7, urban graffiti artist John “Prime” Hina teamed up with middle-school faculty Ke‘alohi Reppun ’99 and Alicia Scanlan to create “Ka Punahou – Our Punawai,” a 100-foot mural on the temporary construction wall facing Case Middle School.

From April 2 – 7, urban graffiti artist John “Prime” Hina teamed up with middle-school faculty Ke‘alohi Reppun ’99 and Alicia Scanlan to create “Ka Punahou – Our Punawai,” a 100-foot mural on the temporary construction wall facing Case Middle School. Inspired by the New Spring and traditional Hawaiian mo‘olelo (stories) associated with the waters of Ka Punahou, the mural invited the participation of hundreds of students, faculty, staff and parents.

Prime is a world-renowned artist inspired by the urban street styles that grew out of traditional graffiti. He is one of the co-founders of Pow! Wow!, the celebrated gathering of international artists who create murals and public art installations in Honolulu’s Kaka‘ako district. He also co-founded 808 Urban, a nonprofit organization that uses graffiti muralism and collective storytelling as a vehicle for youth empowerment in schools and communities across the state.

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Beginning at the left side of the mural, a grove of hala trees lines the freshwater spring of Ka Punahou. Elements from mo‘olelo (stories) associated with the New Spring, such as a pueo (Hawaiian owl), lo‘i kalo (taro fields) and mo‘o goddess (traditionally the guardians of fresh water) accompany the waters as they pass below the ridgeline of Manoa and eventually out to the ocean, completing the journey from mauka to makai. Throughout the mural, bubbles originating in the splashing waters of Ka Punahou contain words such as “family,” “aloha,” and “sports” – student expressions of “their Punahou,” the punawai (spring) that sustains and rejuvenates them. This picture shows only a portion of the 100-foot mural.

Q & A with John “Prime” Hina

What was the origin of this project for you?

In a way, you could say it was years in the making. I started a student group at Punahou through 808 Urban in 2011 or 2012, and we always talked about painting a mural on campus. Once this wall came up, I started thinking of the possibilities. And then I ran into Ke‘alohi and Alicia and they said, ‘Hey, we need your help, we want to paint a mural.’ I didn’t even ask what we were going to paint, I just said yes.

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But my connection to Punahou goes back to 1981, when I used to live on Dole Street, and I’d come here and play on the basketball court. Today I have a child here at Punahou and seeing how she grew up really gave me an appreciation for this place. And my wife works here too, so that makes it even better, because I got to see a lot of family around while we worked on this.

What was it like to work with the campus community?

I think this is the most participation we’ve ever had on one project. I stopped counting after day one, when we had over 250 students. It was supposed to be only a one-day community paint, but nothing went according to that schedule and personally I like that. The game plan is probably 20 percent of the finished product and the other 80 percent comes from whatever people throw at us. I saw everyone taking away a different experience: adults having fun and acting like kids again, kids learning new ways of putting their handprints on. That’s what I noticed the whole week, a lot of discovery.

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The mural was composed in three distinct phases: During “Hana Lima” (to work with hands), members of the entire campus community were invited to place their handprints on the wall to create a base layer of color and shared energy. Then in “Pili Aloha” (to join in aloha), students used water from the Lily Pond as a rinse to even out the base layer. Finally, smaller groups of students in Reppun’s and Scanlan’s classes shadowed Prime and helped him to paint the narrative and imagery inspired by the New Spring.

I really liked the vibe because so many kids passed by, and when they’re passing by, they’re complimenting, they’re criticizing and they’re having conversations. And that’s what art is supposed to do to a space. Prior to us coming here, it was just a blank wall, so you wouldn’t pay any attention, but now there’s something to talk about, something that adds meaning to this place.

Why do you put such an emphasis on working with young people?

A turning point in my life was when I came back to Hawai‘i after living on the mainland for a number of years. I felt like I had to learn more and stay and share what I learned. A lot of students, they go away for college and the first question someone asks is, ‘so what is Hawai‘i like?’ And the kids don’t know how to explain Hawai‘i, or they’ll give the Waikiki version of Hawai‘i because that’s what they see but they can’t share the real Hawai‘i. I think it’s important for them to know; in making them part of the process of researching the mural theme they learn who they are and understand protocol. When the people out there see who they are, that’s where the value comes in. If we don’t know who we are, how valuable can we be?

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The mural was composed in three distinct phases: During “Hana Lima” (to work with hands), members of the entire campus community were invited to place their handprints on the wall to create a base layer of color and shared energy. Then in “Pili Aloha” (to join in aloha), students used water from the Lily Pond as a rinse to even out the base layer. Finally, smaller groups of students in Reppun’s and Scanlan’s classes shadowed Prime and helped him to paint the narrative and imagery inspired by the New Spring.

For me it’s all based on Hawaiian values. It’s about character and respect; always go in with humility and be prepared to do your best. I also want the kids to be spontaneous. I think when we’re too structured in our way of doing art, we forget how to become Peter Pan, we forget how to fly, to imagine.

What was one of your favorite moments of the week?

A chicken-skin moment for me was listening to the kids oli (chant), especially the ones that have been doing it for years and understand the importance of it. As soon as the breath left their mouth, my hair just stood up. Honestly, I didn’t expect that to happen at Punahou. To see how many kids are really in tune with the culture here, to see that practice come back through the kids is amazing, because we’ve lost that spirituality … it was a beautiful surprise.

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The mural was composed in three distinct phases: During “Hana Lima” (to work with hands), members of the entire campus community were invited to place their handprints on the wall to create a base layer of color and shared energy. Then in “Pili Aloha” (to join in aloha), students used water from the Lily Pond as a rinse to even out the base layer. Finally, smaller groups of students in Reppun’s and Scanlan’s classes shadowed Prime and helped him to paint the narrative and imagery inspired by the New Spring.

How do you feel about the fact that this work is impermanent?

If you look at the Hawaiian hale (thatched home), it’s not designed to be permanent. It’s designed to leave a soft imprint so that the future generations can come and build their own home. What I’ve been really driving into the kids is the fact that we have to walk lightly wherever we go, to make way for the next generation that comes after us. I see it as a marker in time, and then it goes away … you’re making space for the future.

What do you want people to take away from this mural?

I hope they learn the stories behind it. Because we didn’t do our job if you just walk by and say ‘oh it’s pretty’ but don’t take the time to learn the story.

See Photos