Innovative Art Exhibit at Hawai’i CC

November 20, 2014, 3:05 PM HST
* Updated September 8, 6:36 PM
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An art exhibit at Hawai’i Community College created in the last year by Dr. Taupōuri Tangarō and internationally renowned musician Keali’i Reichel has been 34 years in the making.

Tangarō, a 17-year-old high school student in 1980, volunteered at the Lyman Museum in Hilo. During his volunteer hours, he would read archival information about corded pā‘ū, the ritual corded skirts found on ki‘i, or carved images

Now a Hawai’i Life Styles Professor at Hawai’i CC, Tangarō says, “The ki‘i are in a dance pose and have these corded skirts. I was intrigued with that. My 17-year-old mind was intrigued by something I’d never seen – the photo with the ki‘i with the pā‘ū. Now that I’m 51, I’ve finally arrived at a point in my life where I was able not just to recreate that but to innovate that.”

The innovations are on display at the Hawai’i CC campus in Hilo. Colored skirts; kōkōpu‘upu‘u, which are traditional knotted carrying nets; large photos; corded sashes; and other unique type of regalia decorate the exhibition space in Piʻopiʻo Hale.

The exhibit is united by the use of traditional Hawaiian knotting techniques.


Reichel, an expert in traditional knotting, taught Tangarō that ancient techniques collaborated on the exhibit making the kōkōpu‘upu‘u. Reichel is also a scholar in residence at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo.


Tangarō became a natural with experience as a hula practitioner and he took some of those knotting techniques and used them for wearable articles.

Based in tradition, the regalia doesn’t shy away from couture fashion and aims to resemble.

“It’s traditional in many points by really innovative in the sense that this is not exactly what it looked like in the old days,” Tangarō said. “We’ve taken something very old and reordered it.”


At the heart of a University of Hawai’i initiative called Hawai’i Papa O Ke Ao is the blend of tradition and innovation. The initiative seeks to make UH a global example of a modern indigenous serving institution.

“Like kōkōpu‘upu‘u, we come from well-defined cultural practices, but with innovation we can take those cultural practices and introduce them in a new light,” Tangarō explained, adding that “the exhibit is also a way of expressing our connectedness.”

Tangarō expressed his overall goal for the exhibit as celebrating those connections in a way that is Hawaiian. “When we step into this seemingly Hawaiian exhibition with couture outcroppings, we want to celebrate the traditional and innovative, but bigger than that is the desire to celebrate the cord that connects us all and reminds us we might be isolated in the middle of the world or ocean but we have a cord that connects us to the entire world and the world to us. This exhibit is about celebrating that connection in a way that is Hawaiian.”

Spring 2015 viewings of the exhibit can be made by contacting Dr. Taupōuri Tangarō at [email protected].

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