Life Lessons In Art

Two weeks plus 557 high school students and 12 teachers and staff equals one giant life-affirming mural at Kamehameha Schools’ Student Support Center. Standing 12 feet high, 100 feet long and spanning three walls, the mural was masterminded by Hawaii artist Solomon Enos and Kamehameha teacher Carl Pao. Much planning and two weeks of painting in 2012 concluded this year with a formal dedication. However, the mural never truly will be complete.


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Detailed patterns make up Lama Tenzin Yignyen’s Mandala of Compassion, created with colored grains of sand at Iolani School

“The idea is that it is a living mural where the kids can always contribute their mana’o, or ideas, to the wall for years to come,” notes the center’s lead teacher and academic support specialist Tiare Ahu, who says the idea initially got its spark because, “Faculty and staff at the Student Support Center wanted the creative environment of students who sit and do their work in the center to be reflected on the interior walls that surround them on a daily basis.”

The project mostly involved ninth- and 10th-graders, who had the fortunate experience to interact with Pao and Enos, who have worked collaboratively on murals at Sheraton Waikiki and elsewhere, and who also are passionate about community and perpetuating Hawaiian culture. Working with them meant soaking in their affirmative life lessons.

“As a team, they modeled not only creativity but kuleana in acknowledging, capturing, honoring and presenting the voices of our students in such a way that inspires them,” says Ahu.

Students were invited to embed their mana’o, contributing inspiring morsels of contemporary thought rooted in a Hawaiian perspective, into the giant artwork of a he’e, or octopus. The ocean, the octopus’s black ink and body parts – all lent metaphors for learning opportunities. Malina Cansibog, who graduated last year, chose to reflect on the octopus’s ability to propel forward, inscribing on the mural, “Your difficulties are not an excuse to back out, but an inspiration to move forward.”

Other students reflected on how the tentacled aquatic and its atmosphere related to family cohesiveness, to forging one’s future, to being a student athlete trying to balance time spent on sports versus schoolwork, friends and family. Another key theme centered around being Native Hawaiian and navigating the balance between living a traditional Hawaiian lifestyle and fitting into the modern world.

Student Austin Jennings sums up the project’s significance: “Throughout the mural there are hundreds of powerful quotes. The fact that students were allowed to put their stories talking about their lives makes the mural even more substantial. It was an honor for me to be part of something so dynamic.”

Ahu concludes: “We’re hoping this project will set precedence and inspire art to be infused in collective community building and honored as critical thinking and engagement.”

For Goodness’ Sake