Joan Mitchell Center AIR Program

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Kaili Chun

Honolulu, HI
2010 Painters & Sculptors Grant Recipient


Artist's Statement (2013)

My work negotiates ideas of containment and exposure, agency and restraint. Process and materials transform physical spaces into unique environments that comment on contemporary issues. I often construct narratives through symbols and objects that address the impact of historical events on the present day. Organic elements are sometimes included in my installations, and the changes they undergo during the course of an exhibition metaphorically reference the nature of culture as an evolutionary process.
I also attempt to examine the distinctions between western and indigenous epistemologies and the effects of one upon the other, while exploring seemingly disparate cultural principles and ideals which are, in fact, shared. In communicating the observations and experiences of life from a Native Hawaiian perspective, I hope to encourage both native and non-native people to embrace the values and ideals we share, and purge harmful practices that consistently challenge and transform the identity of the indigenous person.

Additionally, I am exploring the complex relationship between the work of the hand and the work of the mind; between the sacred and the secular; and between western and native forms of spirituality. Specifically, I am looking at how these distinct approaches have impacted indigenous peoples historically in ways that continue to exemplify contemporary controversies surrounding aboriginal identity.

Furthermore, the tensions that persist between western and indigenous ways of knowing and understanding the world, serve as catalysts for demarcating sculptural forms of containment that serve not only as reminders of the many ways in which each person is shaped and constrained, but as negotiable boundaries between inside and outside, between concealment and revelation. 

Who occupies whom? How do we move between the two worlds in which we live? Are we subject to the boundaries defined by others or do we delineate the boundaries that explicate our situation? The lines are not always so clear-cut.

Today, we live in an increasingly globalized world in which identity is used simultaneously to unite and separate. In seeking to voice our identity as a Native people, the language of visual art becomes a vital tool to communicate the wisdom and knowledge of our ancestors to an audience shaped by contemporary realities. It enables us to share lessons of the past for the building of the future. Exploring the concept of `ike pono (to see clearly, to know definitely…) from both Native and Western perspectives, we are reminded of the bible verse; 
“I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” -Job

Like Job, the Hawaiian people suffered difficult and bewildering times...losing a large portion of their population with the coming of the po’e haole, and for many, becoming strangers in their own land. It seems this may be at the root of our suffering today, and our constant need for approval and substantiation by non-natives. But as we have endured the insensitivity of others, trying to fit into the boxes they build for us, we maintain our vision...

Imua e nā poki`i a inu i ka wai `awa`awa
(Forward my little brother and drink the bitter water [of battle]).

Finally, we would be wise to heed both the words of our own people and those of the world. In doing so, we may be able to better the choices that we make in life, share our values in a larger global community and sustain our vision.

  • Veritas II, 2012

  • Veritas II, 2012

  • Veritas II, 2012

  • Janus, 2010

  • 'ō'ō, 2011

All works are copyright of the artist or artist’s estate.