DISplace Artists’ Talk

Creating Hawaiian Futures Artist’s Talk: Lehuauakea in conversation with Kalei’okalani Matsui and Kevin Matthew Kaunuali’i Kiesel

This virtual event took place on February 25, 2021.


About this Event

DISplace co-curator, artist and kapa-maker Lehuauakea will host a special conversation with digital artist Kevin Matthew Kaunuaki’i Kiesel and lei maker and Hula teacher Kalei’okalani Matsui about creating Hawaiian futures in the Pacific Northwest. They will share about their artistic journeys, discuss ways of imagining and creating through a lens of Indigenous futurism, and consider what that means for Hawaiians on the mainland today.

DISplace, Five Oaks Museum’s current featured exhibition, shines light on the widely unknown connection between Hawai‘i, the Pacific Northwest, and the communities that continue to flow between these two regions. As far back as 1787, people coming from and through the Hawaiian Islands to what’s currently considered the Pacific Northwest have made important contributions to culture and industry throughout the region. The multi-faceted online exhibition combines deep historical research with contemporary artworks and personal stories sourced directly from today’s regional communities.

Kaleiʻokalani Onzuka Matsui (she/her) is of Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Black, Japanese, and Chinese heritage and was born and raised in Wai`anae, O`ahu. Kalei is the founding leader of Polynesian Dance Troupe Huraiti Mana based in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. She is currently the Director of Museum Services at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience and has also had her work exhibited in Visions of Pasifika Light from Another World, and Shining Through: Reflections of an Oceanic Future. Kalei considers herself ha`api`i, a word of the Reo Mā’ohi or Tahitian language meaning both to teach and to learn. Practicing Indigenous reciprocity, Kalei continues teaching, thus learning and gaining tenfold from her students the knowledge of her people, her cultures, and her kuleana—her responsibility.

Kevin Matthew Kaunualiʻi Kiesel (he/him) was born on the island of O`ahu and grew up in Wahiawa. His ethnic background is Hawaiian, Chinese, and Caucasian. In 2007, Kevin moved to Seattle to pursue an art education. All aspects of Kevin’s life were transplanted, academically, socially, and creatively. Living in the Pacific Northwest gave rise to an examination of his cultural identity and fused his interests in art, culture, and science fiction. His digital paintings of mechs, humanoid or biomorphic machines found in science fiction and anime, are covered in a camouflage of endemic plants that are integral to Hawaiian culture.

Lehuauakea (they/them) is a mixed-Native Hawaiian interdisciplinary artist from Pāpaʻikou on Moku O Keawe, the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. Lehua’s Kānaka Maoli family descends from several lineages connected to Maui, Kauaʻi, Kohala, and Hāmākua where their family resides to this day. They have participated in several solo and group shows around the Pacific Ocean. Most recently these include ‘A Gift, A Breath’ at Alice Gallery in Seattle, ‘Until We Meet Again’ at Blackfish Gallery in Portland, and ‘He Hae Hōʻailona Ia’ at Aupuni Space in Honolulu. Through a range of craft-based media, their practice serves as a means of reflection on cultural and biological ecologies, spectrums of identity, and what it means to build a life rooted in Indigenous sustainability and traditional practices. With a particular focus on the labor-intensive making of ʻohe kāpala, kapa cloth, and natural pigments, Lehua is able to breathe new life into patterns and customs practiced for generations. Through these acts of resilience that help forge deeper relationships with ʻāina, this mode of Indigenous storytelling is carried well into the future. The artist is currently based between Portland and Pāpaʻikou after earning their Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting with a minor in Art + Ecology at Pacific Northwest College of Art.


View recording below.