Mayor Kirk Caldwell dedicates 2 new art pieces on display at Thomas Square for a year

Two new pieces of contemporary artwork by local artists on display at Thomas Square are just the first of a new program to feature Hawaii artists.

The two site-specific works — “Ho‘okumu — Moana (The Source — The Deep Ocean),” by Bernice Akamine, and “16 Cube Truss (About Building Systems),” by Sean Connelly — were commissioned by the city at a cost of about $35,000.

The new “Art at Thomas Square program” is intended to enhance the visitor experience at the park while engaging the public with thought-provoking artwork. The two new pieces will be on view along the South Beretania Street side of the square for one year and then rotate with other works by local artists.

“Art at Thomas Square is part of a vision we had for this historic park,” said Mayor Kirk Caldwell in a news release last week, four days before he turned over the mayor’s office to Rick Blangiardi. “The artwork installed encourages people to come together to enjoy nature, art, and history. Mahalo to artists, Bernice Akamine and Sean Connelly, for sharing their talent and creativity with all of us through the two temporary art pieces … I would also like to thank Executive Director Misty Kela‘i of the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts for her hard work on this program. I believe we live in the most beautiful city in the world and it’s through programs like this, that we are able to keep it that way.”

Akamine’s piece represents a water drop honoring the cycle of water — from its source as a single, ethereal raindrop drawn from the mist and clouds of the mountains that then flows downward, where it mixes and becomes part of the moana, or deep ocean.

The piece is made out of stainless-steel wire using one of the oldest styles of net-making, with small crystals woven into a sphere that pays homage to the importance of celestial navigation and its connection with the ocean.

“The artwork was created in a time of great uncertainty,” said Akamine, adding that opportunities for artists have been few and far between since the start of COVID-19. “I wanted ‘Ho‘okumu — Moana’ to be about the possibility of peace, abundance and hope during these trying times for Hawaii and all of humanity.”

Connelly’s sculpture is an example of modern architecture, with interlocking squares held together by the indigenous technology of lashing. The work, made of wood constructed by Ian Eichelberger with lashings installed by Hawaiian artist Kupihea, demonstrate a “new basis for architecture in Honolulu.”

Connelly said that his sculpture honors “the significance of this special site of Thomas Square for its history of Hawaiian sovereignty” as well as the park’s status as being designed by Hawaii’s first female landscape architect.

“The sculpture demonstrates a new basis for architecture in Honolulu because how we build the systems we live in as a society influences our ability to adapt for climate change and the post-pandemic economy,” said Connelly. “The sculpture represents the possibility for a beautiful future for Honolulu if we respect and honor this aina, Hawaiian knowledge and the indigenous technologies represented. … I dedicate this work to everybody in Hawaii as a symbol of hope.”

Two other permanent artworks from the city’s collection already installed at Thomas Square include “Tree,” by Charles Watson (1974), and “Makiki Tree,” by Edward Brownlee (1967).

Renovations to Thomas Square, which include the addition of new lighting, a restored fountain and
restrooms, are ongoing and are expected to continue into next year.