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Post written by Felicia Garcia


In just 3 weeks, 2019 Ronald and Susan Dubin Native Artist Fellow, Ian Kuali’i, takes the stage in SAR’s Eric S. Dobkin Boardroom to share about his fellowship experience. Through hand-cut paper works and ephemeral Land Art/Earth Works installations, Kuali’i bridges contemporary and traditional techniques and designs while addressing themes related to his own history and identity, as well as what he expresses as “intertwined system of bio-cultural landscape and modernization.”

Akua Hulu Manu #5 hand cut paper, Ian Kuali’i.

Freehand cut paper and ink sketches created for a series of contemporary ‘I’e Kūkū/Kapa Beaters, Ian Kual’i.

During his tenure at SAR, Kuali’i has spent time creating works that honor both his Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) and Mescalero Apache ancestry. The first new body of work that he has developed includes several hand-cut paper depictions of various feathered god representations of Kū—one of the major Hawaiian deities. These works will be featured in Kuali’i’s solo exhibition at Hecho A Mano gallery on Canyon Road (July 26-August 25). He has also been creating a second body of hand-cut paper works related to his time on campus. Kuali’i described the composition of these pieces as busy and chaotic, which is no surprise when one sees the amount of work that he has created during the residency. Despite the self-described chaotic nature of these works, Kuali’i has executed the designs with extreme control to create a series of well-balanced and refined multi-layered images. He explains that, “In every portrait, mural, suspended freehand cut-paper piece of installation, there’s always a story, an intent—usually veiled within what we refer to in Hawaiian culture as ‘Kauna’—hidden layers of meanings that speak directly to the ‘mo’olelo’ (history/story). These hidden layers are represented through syntax and motif designs, composed from my ancestral ties to Hawai’i and the Southwest.”

As illustrated by this quote, there is an element of privacy to Kuali’i’s work, which is also evident when he speaks about the Earth Works/Land Art installations that he has been planning. He described these ephemeral works as an exercise in expressing his own reverence for the land, which is a continuation of what his ancestors have always done to pay tribute to the land as their relative. His site-specific works are prayers that he explains are determined by the needs of the landscape. They are also personal—Kuali’i notes that the installations are created to exist beyond a capitalist and ownership-oriented art market. The land is the audience for these works, and while there will be photographic documentation, they cannot be owned. Just as in his hand-cut paper works, the intent of his Land Art/Earth Works is veiled within layers of beautifully composed designs and arrangements.

Freehand cut paper outdoor ephemeral banner hung under the Dubin Studio portal, Ian Kuali’i.

Hear more about Kuali’i’s process and his time at SAR, in his artist talk, reception, and open studio on Thursday, August 8, 2019 at 5:30 PM in SAR’s Eric S. Dobkin Boardroom.

The talk is free and open to the public; advanced registration encouraged. Register here.


SAR’s Native Artist Fellowships offer artists the time and space they need to explore projects like Kuali’i’s. For three months, artists live and work on the SAR campus in the King Residence and Dubin Studio. Each artist has access to the Indian Arts Research Center (IARC) collections for inspiration, open studio space for creative exploration, and support from IARC staff and other museum professionals.

Learn more about our 2019-2020 Native American artist fellows here.