By Hadley Nunes
Painter and muralist Kaiʻili Kaulukukui has been a member of Lana Lane Studios since it’s formation in 2013. Kaulukukui is a participating artist and the Sea Walls Ground Operations Manager for the PangeaSeed Foundation. Sea Walls: Murals for the Ocean is a public art project created by PangeaSeed — an international nonprofit organization that aligns art with activism to champion the needs of our world’s oceans.
In 2014 Kaulukukui volunteered to help install a large crochet artwork by visiting artist and activist Olek for PangeaSeed’s World’s Ocean Day Festival in Honolulu. The volunteer position quickly turned into a role as a team member and Kaulukukui found himself traveling with Olek for two subsequent PangeaSeed projects.
As the Ground Operation Manager for Sea Walls, his responsibilities include a long list of items. He manages all supplies and requests for materials along with plans for scaffolding, ladders or lifts. Mixing and color-matching paint to aerosol and taking care of basically any miscellaneous requests from artists or businesses involved is part of what makes his contribution invaluable. Regarding his role he says, “I enjoy every second of it. I am working to ensure other artists can do their work and that’s extremely gratifying.”
Recently Sea Walls: Murals for the Ocean traveled to Napier, New Zealand, a small coastal town where ocean recreation and fisheries are deeply rooted. Thirty artists participated in making large-scale murals throughout the seaside town.
In addition to murals and the opportunities for dialogue they inspire, different approaches to educational outreach are included in the Sea Walls’ mission. “Small fishing communities are often generations old and have certain traditions they have adhered to for a long time. It is very difficult to show up, paint a bunch of ocean-themed murals and say that they need to change,” explains Kaulukukui. Film screenings, panel discussions and children’s workshops have been successful methods of engaging communities around some of the issues.
One of their goals is to reframe how the ocean serves communities. “We work with local governments to discuss options and programs they can utilize as alternatives to overfishing depleted stocks or illegal harvesting, such as eco-tourism. In Isla Mujeres, for example, there is a concentration of whale sharks in the summer who come to feed in the Caribbean Sea. Shark tours are now commonplace and the fishermen are seeing that taking multiple tours in a season is more valuable to them, than killing the animal and selling it,” Kaulukukui explains. “It is really inspiring to see the level of support offered by the governments of the countries we have visited with Seawalls. The government officials seem as genuinely interested in seeing the art being created as they do in spreading the imagery and messaging to the public,” he says.
Kaulukukui’s work has evolved alongside his involvement with PangeaSeed’s mission. “In the last four to five years I had been integrating clean power resources into my painting, adding imaginary wind turbines and solar panels to buildings and landscapes and trying to promote awareness through my work.” With his involvement in Sea Walls he’s gone deeper into his own studies of the ocean and the activism that surrounds it. “My subject matter has turned heavily aquatic-themed. Now almost 100% of my recent work is directly based on the ocean or creatures in the ocean,” he says.
Kaulukukui has received a commission through the Mayor’s Office on Culture and the Arts’ Art in City Buildings Program. The commission will be installed at Mililani Mauka District Park on Oahu. His work will also be on view as part of the KAABOO music festival in San Diego this September.