Hawaii street artist paints massive mural to welcome home Hokulea

The Hokulea — Hawaiian for ‘Star of Gladness’ and built in the early 1970s — is a full-scale replica of an age-old Polynesian voyaging canoe. Its purpose is anthropological: to study how ancient people migrated across the Pacific.

When the Hokulea returns to Honolulu from its three-year journey around the world, it will be greeted by a public mural by Kamea Hadar. Photo: Courtesy of Polynesian Voyaging Society/Nāʻālehu Anthony

“[The vessel] was launched in 1975 to prove the theory of the Asiatic origin of native Pacific people by showing that it was possible to sail with non-instrumental navigation using ancient way-finding tools such as the sun, moon, stars, wind and waves,” Hawaiian street artist Kamea Hadar told GrindTV.

“Her maiden voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti proved that the ancient Hawaiians, and other Pacific cultures, could navigate in such ways and most likely did not ‘drift’ to their island homes, but instead found them through purposeful trips,” he explained.

The famed boat embarked again from Hawaii in 2014 and has been sailing the globe on a mission of education and a movement toward a more sustainable world. The Hokulea returns to Honolulu in June, and when it does, it will be greeted by Hadar’s new 14-story mural.

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Kamea Hadar has been busy at all levels finishing this mural that has so much significance to the Hawaiian people. Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Tran/Redefined Media

The mural is a story in itself. Started on April 10, it’s a depiction of Hina, the Hawaiian moon goddess, with model/surfer Mahina Garcia, the modern embodiment of a strong and beautiful woman. To add yet another layer of social significance, the mural is being done on an affordable-housing building overlooking Pearl Harbor.

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“Hina, the Hawaiian goddess of the moon, was said to guide Polynesian sailors with the moon and the stars. I felt that this image was fitting, not only because of Hokulea’s return from circumnavigating the globe in June, but also because of [the mural’s] proximity to Pearl Harbor. The building is directly across the street from the Arizona Memorial’s parking lot, and I felt that Hina could be a universal light that helps guide all sailors of the world home safely,” added Hadar.

Kamea Hadar is an accomplished Hawaiian artist embarking on his biggest mural yet. Photo: Courtesy of Kushimi

The artist, who is also co-lead director of POW! WOW!, a celebration of street art with global festivals that originated in Honolulu, has been working with the Polynesian Voyaging Society since 2014, when the Hokulea launched its worldwide voyage. He is also well known for his brilliant public art as well as commercial work with Hawaiian Airlines, Hurley and the Hawaii State Department of Health, as well as a massive portrait of President Obama done in 2015.

“Public art is meant to be enjoyed for free, by all. I have been lucky enough in recent years to use my art to help educate and inspire the next generation and help to lift communities. I’m grateful to align myself with any person, organization or community that aims to help others and care for our earth,” Hadar said.

For this massive undertaking, the biggest challenge for Hadar was the height — in particular, his fear of it.

Hadar, who works on huge murals, is actually afraid of heights. Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Tran/Redefined Media

“I know it sounds weird because this is what I do for a living, but just because I love to paint doesn’t mean that my body acts accordingly,” Hadar laughed. “I’ve been painting large-scale murals for almost seven years now, but it never gets easier. After looking over the edge of the roof during the initial site visit a few months ago, I have had nightmares about the height.

“I’ve taken courses on fall protection, harnesses, lifelines, etc., and consulted experts on and off several sites. I [have] even spoken to the fire department on numerous occasions.”

The first day of this project, Hadar and his assistant started priming the wall from the bottom up. As Hadar became uneasy, he looked up and realized they were only seven of the 14 stories up.

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“I talked it over with my assistant and we decided to just go for it. We went straight to the top to face our fears and worked from the top down,” he shared. “I keep telling myself that there are guys that do this every day. I run through my safety checklist in my head and then I tell myself that important things in life are usually hard.”

Hadar’s mural on a low-income housing project will welcome the Hokulea back into Honolulu. Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Tran/Redefined Media

The project was completed last weekend. And when the Hokulea finally sails into Pearl Harbor and the crew sees the massive new mural?

“I hope that they experience the warm feeling of home,” says Hadar.