Tourism feeds an economy but may also bury a culture as a result of the voracious desire imposed upon a land. The lure of paradise, of the tropics, and an “exotic” locale both motivates and excites us, because when we enter another place, we become in a sense, incognito, and have free reign of our passions.
As someone who is part Native-Hawaiian while born and raised in California, I wear many hats in relationship to the Hawaiian experience. I represent outsider and insider, tourist and indigenous person, colonizer and colonized. In this body of work, I use certain materials as cover-ups. These materials are consumed in two ways – one in direct relation to tourism and the other serving a purpose for the locals themselves.
What may seem protective, comforting, or economically advantageous may also be smothering. In some cases, a complex culture becomes blanketed underneath simplified icons of tourist consumption. This stylization of culture contributes to an illusion that is both comfortable and predictable to the visitor and outsider.
As I rest on the ground, covered in Hawaiian iconography, I attempt to understand a buried past. When I dress myself in rooster feathers, I futilely replicate the ancient exquisite feather cloaks used for ceremonial purposes. I also recognize that the cocks themselves are representative of old commerce systems, which have been forced into forbidden practice. Or, when I cover my body with leis, I simultaneously wear and protest the appropriation of cultural symbology for tourist consumption. A welcoming device, the “spirit of aloha,” represented by the lei, is now something plastic, bought, and sold around the world to conjure the idea of paradise.
The works presented here are both performative and staged. I, as tourist, both comment on tourism, and photograph myself participating in the most identifiable tourist act, posing within a landscape and capturing myself there. In some instances, I revisit and re-perform specific imagery originally found on postcards and travel posters. As I become object and subject, I both question and participate in the commoditization of this land. My actions, although only temporary insertions into the landscape, both personalize and facilitate my attempts to “become” or connect with this place as much as possible.