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Where EAST meets the Northwest

GRAFFITI & CULTURE. Mele Murals, a documentary about the transformative power of art through the unlikely union of graffiti and ancient Hawai‘ian culture, follows two renowned street artists — Estria Miyashiro (a.k.a. Estria) and John Hina (a.k.a. Prime) — a group of Native Hawai‘ian youth, and the rural community of Waimea. Through their stories, the film shows how public art and Native Hawai‘ian traditions affect the artists, students, and community. (Photo courtesy of Pacific Islanders in Communications)

From The Asian Reporter, V27, #9 (May 1, 2017), pages 12 & 16.

Bridging mural-making and indigenous traditions

Mele Murals

Directed by Tadashi Nakamura

Airing May 2 at 11:00pm on Oregon Public Broadcasting

By Maileen Hamto

The Asian Reporter

What happens when graffiti artists — steeped in street knowledge and hip-hop culture — come to paradise to make art with an indigenous community? The documentary, Mele Murals, follows the journey of two renowned street artists and their collaboration with youth from a rural Hawai‘ian town to catalyze the community’s vision of their identity as a people.

The film conjoins the narratives of Estria Miyashiro and John "Prime" Hina, artists who have taken different paths to become masters of street art. Estria, who left Hawai‘i to study art in San Francisco, established himself as a street artist on the mainland. He returned to Hawai‘i to reconnect with his Japanese and Native Hawai‘ian roots. A native of Honolulu, Prime was well known in the Big Island’s underground graffiti scene before starting a family. He returned to "writing" (the art of graffiti) years later, by starting to work with young people who want to develop their skills.

Estria and Prime were invited to lead a public art project by indigenous charter school teacher Kanoa Castro in the rural community of Waimea. Amid a resurgence of interest in Native Hawai‘ian culture, language, and traditions, the charter schools connect young people with pre-colonial stories, songs, chants, and customs. The town of fewer than 10,000 people is home to Mauna Kea, a volcano that rises almost 14,000 feet. It is the highest peak in Hawai‘i and is known as the realm of the "Snow Goddess."

As the artists delve deeper and listen intently to the narratives of the youth and elders, the two discover the contrasts between their own understanding, experiences, and interpretations of Hawai‘i and indigenous beliefs and the traditions practiced by the Waimea community.

The transformative process instructs Estria and Prime about their duty and responsibility to preserve Native Hawai‘ian traditions, as they reflect upon and rediscover their own identities.

"When I lived in California, it was me by myself. If I messed up, it was my mistake. If I had success, it was my success," Estria said. "But coming here and learning about our culture … I don’t want to let these people down."

Reconciling the mores of contemporary street art with indigenous traditions was challenging for both men, especially for Estria. Collating the community’s ideas in an inclusive process posed a steep learning curve, as the process contrasts sharply with the individualistic and competitive nature of writing culture.

The journey of the artists becomes a spiritual awakening on the trek up the slopes of snowy Mauna Kea. Swimming in Wai’Ula’Ula — the place where fresh water from the mountain meets the ocean — is immersion into the enduring indigenous stories that were nearly annihilated by colonization. In the community conversations to bring all ideas together for the mural, the artists also helped catalyze healing from the community’s loss of culture.

In the film, Estria and Prime identify the single most important purpose of their work with the Waimea community: Capturing the true essence of Hawai‘i beyond the trite tourist tropes of leis and grass skirts. Director Tadashi Nakamura’s Mele Murals documents the joys and pains of a collective process to create public art that reflects the ethos of a thriving indigenous community.

Mele Murals is airing Tuesday, May 2 at 11:00pm on Oregon Public Broadcasting with a repeat May 4 at 4:00am. The film is also streaming online during the month of May. To learn more, visit <> and <>.

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Pacific Heartbeat airs Tuesdays in May at 11:00pm on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Mele Murals is the first episode of season six of Pacific Heartbeat, an anthology series that

provides viewers with a glimpse of the real Pacific — its people, cultures, and contemporary issues.

The series features a diverse array of programs that will draw

viewers into the heart and soul of Pacific Island culture.

Mele Murals

May 2, 11:00pm

Visions in the Dark: The Life of Pinky Thompson

May 9, 11:00pm

Visions in the Dark tells a story of pain and promise,

of challenge and triumph, and a story of leadership.

Ever the Land

May 16, 11:00pm

Ever the Land explores the sublime bond between the people of New Zealand and their land.

Next Goal Wins

May 23, 11:00pm

Next Goal Wins is a hilarious and moving exploration of what it really means

to be a winner in life, after suffering a world record 0-31 defeat and being

dubbed the worst football (soccer) team on the planet.

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