Honolulu’s Kaka’ako murals deliver quite a visual punch, thanks to POW!WOW! Worldwide. They’ve been spraying up this industrial neighborhood for ten years, delivering a colorful surprise around every corner. This guide to Honolulu street art will help you find cool murals and learn why the street artists love POW!WOW!
POW!WOW! Worldwide Is At Home in Honolulu
Over the past ten years, POW!WOW! has run mural festivals in twelve far flung locations from Long Beach to Guam to Israel. But, Honolulu is their literal and spiritual home. Festival director Jasper Wong deliberately chose to host Honolulu’s festival in Kaka’ako because at the time, it was a forgotten, under-served neighborhood. Kaka’ako is located just three miles west of Waikiki, but it’s on a different planet. The heavy tourist influence is not in evidence in there. Rather than coconut tchotchkies, the neighborhood is stocked with light industries, auto repair shops and creative studios.
Gentrification is invading Kaka’ako with fancy apartments, craft breweries and restaurants have also arriving on the scene. But gentrification is not POW!WOW!’s objective. Their intent is to build community by engaging building owners, Honolulu residents and artists in a group art effort.
When I asked the street artists why they enjoy participating in POW!WOW!, I heard variations of the same theme. OG Slick brings his happy face motif because he believes that the festival is “…all about community and the POW!WOW! family”. Kevin Lyon keeps returning because he appreciates the family atmosphere, which he attributes to the Hawaiian spirit. And Bethany Georges like the slower pace of the week-long festival schedule because it gives the artists more opportunity to socialize with and learn from one another.
Jasper was intentional about naming the festival “POW!WOW!”, because it invokes Native American and Hawaiian cultures, fostering the spirit of a tribal community.
But there’s a double entendre in the name. That POW! also represents the explosive cartoon smack in the face that street art is so good at producing.
Kaka’ako Murals Go POW In Your Face
Every city has it’s own peculiar street art culture. In Berlin, the best works are furtive and graffiti-driven. Bogota celebrates its home-grown artists. San Francisco’s Mission district murals are more about Latino culture and Nashville murals are tailor made for Instagram.
The Kaka’ako street art is a well-curated, low slung effort that is less about high drama and more about celebrating artistic diversity.
Let’s start with Tristan Eaton, because I’m a fangirl. Tristan has participated in the festival three times and he always brings something interesting. In 2020, he partnered with his artist brother Matt to create an homage to their favorite uncle. Uncle Binda, was quite a character, playing in the backing band for the Beatles, making visual art and teaching his nephews how to misbehave. Matt and Tristan’s tribute mural features some of Uncle Binda’s favorite things, including a portrait of Binda’s wife, a tiger and Elvis.
Here’s a portfolio of images tracking the mural from it’s inception through completion.
Eaton’s own personal favorite is a Samarai from last year (noted below). Both murals are pretty remarkable for their depth of color and even more so given that Eaton has a very particularly kind of colorblindness. He sees a narrow range of primary colors and you’ll see a lot of red, blue and yellow repeated in his work. A perfect example of this is his lovely Audrey Hepburn mural in New York City.
More Edgy Kaka’ako Street Art
But Eaton’s murals aren’t the only ones offering splashes of color. Some of the works in the neighborhood are equally colorful but with a more edgy street look. You won’t see a lot of Hawaiian graffiti, at least not like the kind peppering London’s Brick Lane, but Kaka’ako does have plenty of commissioned (or at least permissioned) murals that evoke graffiti.
This colorful mess on Koula street has the look of wild style graffiti but was done as an intentional collaboration between OG Slick, CKA Weeks and Mung Monster.
7 Sketches is a local Honolulu street artist whose cartoony characters are reminiscent of the street culture that triggered the graffiti movement in the 1980’s.
And this cool dude with his poke bowl also carries a lot of edge.
Chasing Monsters and Sea Creatures
There are also a fair number of friendly monsters and sea creatures lurking the streets of Kaka’ako.
Kevin Lyon’s kid-friendly monsters are far more joyful than they are scary. I found them so delightful that I temporarily lost my mind and burst into skipping. Not all of Kaka’ako street art is Instagrammable, but this mural sure is.
Alex Pardee’s monsters have a bit more edge. Sure, they are smiling, but I’m pretty sure that his “brightmares” are lethal. If you are interested in the anatomy of designing and painting a mural like this, check out Pardee’s article, which talks about how he put this piece together.
German artist Czok, called on the Hawaiian gods for this mural featuring an he’e (or octopus). The ancient god Kanaloa is the spiritual leader of the underworld and he often takes the form of an octopus.
This is me swimming in Rum Tum’s freehand scuba garden.
Hawaiian artist Kaiili Kaulukukui painted one of my favorite creatures, the green sea turtle. Kaulukukui is a native of the Big Island and Hawaii’s aquatic landscape features heavily in his work. These green sea turtles are endangered, but you can still spot them while snorkeling around Hawaii.
Finding the Feminine Edge in Kaka’ako
Kaka’ako’s murals also have plenty of subjects with a strong feminine edge.
This lovely mural is a collaboration between Kamea Hadar and Rone. Rone is an Australian artist who excels at the large scale tender portraits. You can find his work all over downtown Melbourne and also painted on grain silos in rural Australia.
This Instagrammable spot was created by Christina Angelina. She specializes in large-scale figurative pieces.
Audrey Kawasaki likes to convey mysterious intrigue and feminine sensuality in her works, as with this undersea siren.
These niads were created by Squid Licker. She describes the mural as a “…cabinet of curiosity as a trope for the extinction of the imagination in climate terminus.”
Visual Vortexes and Magic Eye
And then there are those murals that make you feel like you’ve just been sucked into some sort of magic eye vortex.
Look once at this image, then look again. What appears at first glance to be a flower is actually something else entirely. Solomon Enos designed this complex flower as an “expression of hope for the future. We are all petals on the single unified flower of humanity.”
Andrew Schoultz’s “sunset meditation”, positively boggles the eyeballs. This carefully constructed series of overlapping lines shimmers off of an otherwise drab parking garage.
Here he is at work, creating his exacting geometric lines.
Despite the artistic variety of the murals featured here, they all have have one thing in common– they are all infused with the community spirit of POW!WOW Hawaii. Walking the streets, you can feel the respect that Honolulu has for the festival and I hope that you enjoy seeing the murals as much as I did. Aloha.
Honolulu Street Art Map
POW!WOW! produces murals in Kaka’ako every year. If the building owners wish, the murals will stay up, but there is a lot of turnover with each new festival.
If you are interested in tracking down specific artists, then reference POW!WOW!’s festival map. But you can also simply wander around on your own, experiencing the happy surprise of coming across a cool mural. If that’s your jam, then the map below to identify some of the mural-rich streets in Kaka’ako.
Explore more of the island with this one week Oahu itinerary and these great hikes on Oahu.
Find More Great Street Art
Study great street art in other cities by checking out my guides to:
Top Street Art Cities in the World | Books About Street Art|Street Art Festivals | Buenos Aires | Bogota | San Diego | San Francisco | Los Angeles |Nashville | Chicago | New York | Havana | London | Reykjavik | Belfast | Bristol | Berlin | Paris | Estonia | Rural Australia | Melbourne | Honolulu | Salt Lake City
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Monday 11th of May 2020
I just found your blog! I loved this post with all the murals. Street murals are always such welcome surprises when traveling. I'd love to go to see these in person!
Tuesday 12th of May 2020
Well- once Hawaii opens up, I def recommend that you go there.