Nānā i ke Kumu

Nānā I Ke Kumu, cyanotype on bleached aloha shirts, 2016 – exhibited at Mark’s Garage as part of Maoli Art Month 2016 from May 1 to June 5, 2016.

When Mary Kawena Pukui included “Nānā i ke kumu” in her book of ʻōlelo noʻeau, her translation of the phrase was “look to the source.” I was taught your “source” was one’s kupuna, history, genealogy, the actions already completed from which one should learn.  However, when I recently came across a phrase I didn’t quite understand, I found myself looking to a different source.

Siri, define urban Hawaiian?

 – Hmm… let me think…I found this on the web for ʻdefine urban Hawaiianʻ:

 She showed me a series of Urban Dictionary definitions, and I scrolled through.

Siri, am I an urban Hawaiian?

– I really can’t say.

 Siri, am I Hawaiian?

 – I really can’t say.

 Siri, how do I become a better Hawaiian?

 – OK, I found this on the web for ʻhow do I become a better Hawaiianʻ?

This collection of “Urban Hawaiian” shirts was created in response to conversations with technology, asking software and algorithms to answer questions of personal identity.  Screenshots of these search results were collected and printed on bleached aloha shirts, recreating each garment with an up-to-date version of Hawaiian identity according to different internet sources.  Printing the designs with a historic photographic process called cyanotype, each piece is a blend of old and new image-capturing techniques, referencing the continued role of photography in the construction and advertisement of personal and cultural identity.

Now, who knew Siri could be so Socratic?

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