Pow! Wow! Hawai’I Packs a Painted Punch

This past February, street artists and fine artists alike joined together for the fifth annual Pow! Wow! Hawai’i (PWH) festival in Honolulu, Hawaii. Founder of the site and painting festival PWH Jasper Wong and mega-art site Booooooom’s Jeff Hamada caught up with me to discuss the event, its history, and its future.

Lady Aiko
on Auahi Street| 2014, Courtesy of Pow! Wow! Hawai’I.

If you’re feeling like you missed out, check out PWH’s great video page and their mural page – and of course, consider attending Pow! Wow! Taiwan this year. – Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor

Ellen Caldwell: Could you tell me a little bit about POW! WOW! Hawai’i and its history?

Jasper Wong: The name “POW! WOW!” originally came from comic books. "POW!" being the impact that art has on a viewer. A punch in the face. And "WOW!" being the reaction that viewer has to art. Together they form a term that describes a gathering to celebrate art, music and culture. We felt it was perfect. As an organization, POW! WOW! is threefold. It aims to beautify the neighborhood; bring people together; and educate the youth. We're looking to expand outside of Hawai’i with plans in Israel, Taiwan, Washington DC, Alaska, and Jamaica in the coming years.

Jeff Hamada: I met Jasper, the event organizer, before he started the event in Hawai’i. He was living in Hong Kong at the time and we organized an art show at his gallery space and then travelled to Japan together. We went from barely knowing each other to becoming really close friends in a short span. I think Pow! Wow! Hawai’i represents things that are most important to Jasper. It is an art event but when you really experience it first-hand you realize it is about people and community building. The event is a giant excuse to make new friendships.

Hannah Stouffer
and Andrew Schoultz | 2014, Courtesy of Pow! Wow! Hawai’I.

Schoultz in action | 2014, Courtesy of Pow! Wow! Hawai’I.

EC: What do you see as some of the highlights of this year's particular event?

JW: There are too many to list to be honest. The major highlight is just seeing the smile on people's faces when they see the art.

JH: There were a lot more fine artists this year, which I really enjoyed seeing. I know the vision for the event was for it to be more than a mural festival and this year was the most diverse. I really enjoyed meeting Wayne White, he is a genius, so to meet him and his wife Mimi and get to help him build some cardboard heads for an afternoon was special.

Elvis Wall | 2014, Courtesy of Pow! Wow! Hawai’I.

EC: Do you have any pipe dreams for PWH’s future -- however (un)realistic or not?

JW: There are tons! We would love to continue taking the festival further and expanding on a global scale. We also want to build more schools and grow our education program.

EC: What's surprised you the most about PWH?

JW: The music performance that our POW! WOW! School of Music put together during the finale was mind blowing.

JH: I'd say 99% of the high profile artists that are invited out to the event are super down to earth, low-key, and genuinely nice people. You would think there would be more egos but I haven't encountered much of that at all. It's a special group of people, well, a family, that has formed because of the event.

Wayne White cardboard mask |
2014, Courtesy of Pow! Wow! Hawai’I.

Wayne White mask performance at Pow! Wow! Hawai’i | 2014, Courtesy of Hi-Fructose Magazine.

EC: Here at NAP, we are obviously really interested in contemporary painting – in all shapes and forms.  How do you see PWH tying into this conversation more and more?

JW: A lot of the artists we bring in for the festival exist in both planes. They're able to straddle street art with their gallery work. To be honest, it's all very much the same to me. They are just done on different surfaces. Art in public places also breaks the barrier that sometimes exist with galleries and museums.

JH: This year I was excited that Brendan Monroe came, I shared a hotel room with James Jean, and as I mentioned before Wayne White was there. Andrew Hosner from Thinkspace also curated a fabulous show to open the week in Hawai’i. Contemporary painting was all over this year's event and hopefully will be more and more a part of it.

Wall in progress | 2014, Courtesy of Pow! Wow! Hawai’I.

EC:  Art-wise, what do you look forward to most in the coming year?

JH: Pow! Wow! Taiwan is next! It's gonna’ be fun because this one is a lot smaller, similar to the first year it ran in Hawai’i. I've never been to Taiwan before and it's always fun to meet up with talented artists in totally random countries.

Tatiana Suarez
and Woes Martin Bike Factory Wall | 2014, Courtesy of Pow! Wow! Hawai’I.

Pow! Wow! Hawai’I pop up shop | 2014, Courtesy of Pow! Wow! Hawai’I.


Jasper Wong is an artist, illustrator, and curator. He is best known for his art that is a unique clash of Asian-influenced pop culture on paper. Wong has exhibited worldwide and he is also the founder of a gallery in Hong Kong called ABOVE SECOND and another creative venue in Honolulu called LOFT IN SPACE. Wong is also the creator and lead director of POW WOW HAWAII, a non-profit organization of contemporary artists committed to community enrichment through the creation of art outreach programs, educational programs and engaging the community in the creation and appreciation of art. Jasper’s newest venture is a community art center called LANA LANE STUDIOS.

Jeff Hamada is a Japanese Canadian artist living and working in Vancouver, British Columbia. In 2008 he created Booooooom which quickly became Canada’s highest traffic art blog and one of the largest art blogs on the Internet.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.


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