Lead Story – “Mele Murals”, Art is Life. Film Chronicles the Story...

Lead Story – “Mele Murals”, Art is Life. Film Chronicles the Story of the Life-changing Murals

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Photo of John “Prime” Hina at work on a mural.

Roy Kimura
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Photo of Director Tadashi Nakamura

Director Tadashi Nakamura: “. . . the opportunity to work with the Hawaiian community . . . was not only a great film, but an opportunity for me to just develop my own sensitivity, my own knowledge, of the land and the people of a place that I choose to come to all the time.” (Photo by Evan Loney)

“Mele Murals” is a documentary directed, produced and edited by Tadashi “Tad” Nakamura (director also of “Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings”). The film was co-produced by ‘Öiwi TV and Pacific Islanders in Communications, in association with the Center for Asian American Media. ‘Öiwi co-founder Keoni Lee served as executive producer. The straightforward synopsis of the film is that it chronicles the journey of two graffiti artists from Honolulu who travel to a Hawaiian-focused public charter school on Hawai‘i island to teach its students how to express themselves by creating murals. Their collaborative effort is called Mele Murals, from which the film gets its name. Simple story, right?

Photo of Veteran graffiti artist Estria Miyashiro

Veteran graffiti artist Estria Miyashiro says the art was once “the ultimate of ego.” However, working on the Mele Murals with the students of Kanu o Ka ‘Äina public charter school turned into a life-changing experience for both himself and fellow artist John “Prime” Hina. (Photo by Evan Loney)

But if you know anything about “Mele Murals” director Tad Nakamura, you know that the yonsei director doesn’t tell simple stories.

And in “Mele Murals,” they choose to use their experience in creating art and passion for their Hawaiian culture to teach students how to express themselves through graffiti. The effect of the process and the completed works of art on the students is as compelling an argument for supporting arts education as any I’ve ever seen.

“Mele Murals” can also be regarded as a tip-of-the-iceberg introduction to an appreciation of Hawaiian culture. While the students’ education at the Waimea charter school, Kanu o Ka ‘Äina, is replete with Hawaiian language, dance and music, Estria and Prime, with guidance from native Hawaiian practitioner Aunty Pua Case, culturally expand the students’ minds and hearts even more during the creation of the murals. A visit to the summit of Mauna Kea with Aunty Pua helps to provide a better understanding of Poli‘ahu, a Hawaiian goddess of snow — a main character in one of the murals. Estria and Prime don’t just let the students paint without purpose. Rather, they guide the students through a process of choosing Hawaiian songs (thus the word Mele in the title, which means “song” in Hawaiian language) on which to base their murals, to visualize the meanings of the song’s lyrics and to open their creative minds to outside, sometimes mystical influences.

“To me, the opportunity to work with the Hawaiian community . . . was not only a great film, but an opportunity for me to just develop my own sensitivity, my own knowledge, of the land and the people of a place that I choose to come to all the time. I’ve always felt a connection, and I felt I needed to do due diligence to understand this place that I come to a lot deeper,” Nakamura explained.

He credits ‘Öiwi TV with teaching him about the native Hawaiian community and providing entrée to the small town of Waimea and people who live there.

Photo of Little Kana‘i Tolentino “listens” to a wall

Little Kana‘i Tolentino “listens” to a wall. Miyashiro and Hina guided the students of Kanu o Ka ‘Äina public charter school through a process of choosing Hawaiian songs on which to base their murals. (Photo by Evan Loney)

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