Kapulani Landgraf is a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) multidisciplinary artist working with black-and-white photography, collage and mixed-media installation. Guided by Hawaiian values, language, and belief systems, she interweaves multidimensional meaning in her art to probe and remind viewers about the legacy of colonization, while honouring the ancestors and the aina (land). Landgraf’s work has been shown in a variety of locations including Alaska, Arizona, British Columbia, Hawai‘i, New York and Germany.
As a witness to the negative impacts of land use for individual ownership and profit, Landgraf exposes the complexities for the aina and those indigenous to Hawai’i who endure colonial epidemics such as archaeology, tourism, and commercial land development. Initially interested in the field of archaeology herself, she shifted focus upon realization that contract archaeology firms are paid to find and prepare land for development, whether or not the site is a na wahi kapu (sacred site). Landgraf began concentrating on responsible guardianship of the aina through her own research and that of other Kanaka Maoli scholars. She rediscovered and negotiated access to sacred sites, which resulted in her black-and-white photographic essays that successfully reclaim the aina, the bind between contemporary Kanaka Maoli and the ancestors.
Landgraf’s black-and-white photographs subtly embed environmental and political commentary. In Kanaha (1998) the beauty of the tranquil-looking fish pond at Kanaha is apparent. What is not obvious is that located outside the image’s frame is the expanding Kahului Airport, threatening the life of this peaceful space. The image is not simply a nostalgic representation before impending destruction, but the culmination of Landgraf’s performative, interventionist process that recognizes Hawai’i as an exploited, colonized space. Here, Landgraf gives empowering voice to the land that may appear silent, or silenced.
Landgraf’s collage work pushes past the landscapes of her earlier photographic essays. These works are less subtle in their politicized statements, as they intend to debunk the myth of Hawai‘i as paradise found. In ‘Aina pa’apa’akai (2003) Landgraf layers and weaves images of missionaries and sun-tanning tourists with English and Hawaiian text positioning Hawai’i as an occupied colonial, misused space, not as a paradise. Her weaving technique and use of square-head iron nails gives a three-dimensional and tactile quality to the work, while the presence of the Native Hawaiian language is culturally affirming. This use of her Native language selectively lets certain people in, while others are kept out.
Landgraf’s installation work is just as political and affirming as her other mediums, yet they also possess a delicate quality. Make i ke kai hohonu (Death in the Deep Sea) 2001 is created with black-and-white photos wrapped in barkcloth, fishhooks and red volcanic cinders. The ghostly figure, surrounded by hanging fishhooks, recalls old-time death caskets and provides a grounding presence, while the hanging hooks reach back to the ancestors, and call for Native Hawaiians to speak out about the injustices they have suffered. Landgraf speaks with the land and the ancestors to affirm cultural presence, and in doing so, guards against further colonial injustices. Her performative interventions soothe the soul and guard the land.
Additional Resources compiled by students in Contemporary Native American Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Spring 2013
Orwig, Darrell. “Kapulani Landgraf Story,”Hawaii Art Magazine, 2010
“Native Arts and Cultures Foundation,” 2012 Artist Fellowships, 2012
Sodetani, Naomi. “Forbidden Places : Photographer Anne Kapulani Landgraf explores loss of sacred sites, rights and identity,” Honolulu Star Bulletin. Dec 14, 2003.