The 2017 Honolulu Biennial Art Festival at Ward Village: A Family-Centered Review


If you are like me, you probably have no idea what exactly a biennial art festival entails. My understanding of art biennials was minimal to say the least, before my experience at the new Honolulu Biennial this weekend. Henri Neuendorf explains the historical and cultural significance of art -ennials in Art Demystified: Biennials Explained. These art festivals are held across the world in an effort to support artists, showcase culture, and embrace diversity, with the added benefit of attracting art tourism to the cities in which they are held. Not surprisingly, Italy is known for hosting the first and longest standing biennial event, the Venice Biennale. As Neuendorf explains, “It was created for the precise reason of establishing a platform for art world participants to compare and contrast the art created across the world…” The 2017 Honolulu Biennial: Middle of Now is Honolulu’s inaugural biennial, the beginning of a new tradition for the city. It showcases work from artists all across the globe at nine different locations in the city, and it is an incredible family experience that we look forward to visiting again. and Ward Village generously offered my family the opportunity to visit the Ward venues so I could share our experience with you. Ward hosts two venues: the Hub and the IBM building. We went on a Saturday and enjoyed ourselves so much that we returned the following Monday. Parking was easy and free at both locations on both days. My husband had a cold and didn’t feel like walking between the IBM building and the HUB, but they are only about 2-2.5 blocks apart so it would be easily walkable if you decide to just park in one place. Parking is available in the lot directly in front of the Hub. There is plenty of parking in between the Hub and the IBM if you choose to walk, otherwise parking is available for the IBM building across the street in Ward Village.

Upon entering the IBM building, we were greeted by some welcoming Biennial representatives who explained where we could see the art in the building. There are two pieces located outside on the large lanai and one large full room art piece on the third floor. After viewing the outdoor exhibits on our own, we were escorted to the third floor to see the final installation, a small apartment-like space complete with a couch, book shelves, a dining table and chairs, and a bed all covered in florescent dots, illuminated by the purple glow of black lights. This was my girls’ favorite display at the IBM location for good reason. It was truly fascinating. It may seem tempting to skip this location since it only houses three artists’ work, but it is a MUST SEE at the Biennial in my opinion. Besides the fact that it is one of the biennial’s free venues, only in person can you observe the details of each piece, the texture of the stainless steel artificial rock, the slow methodical motions of the breathing flower, the orderliness of the dots in the room and how they seem to make everything else disappear…

The Hub is the Biennial’s largest venue, located in the old Sport’s Authority building off Ward Avenue. I found the hours (12-7pm) to be a little inconvenient for our family, since it seems like the morning is the best time for us to avoid traffic. On our Saturday trip, I mistakenly believed we could manage to see the Hub in a little less than an hour. I was VERY wrong! There was so much to see that when we had to leave, my girls begged to return, and I couldn’t refuse. I wanted to see more too! We spent another three hours there on our next trip the following Monday. I’ll admit, we could have stayed longer on that visit too, but we really needed to hit the road before traffic got too bad.


The Hub is located in the old Sport’s Authority building on Ward Ave.

Exploring art and science exhibits with my kids seems to get more and more fun as they get older. Right now at 9 and 6 years old, they take the time to really stop, observe, and reflect on what they’re seeing. On our visits, if I didn’t pause to read the artist information cards to them, I’d catch the big kid reading to herself or to her sister and I witnessed their eyes glow with newfound understanding when they turned back to the art. Much of the art in this particular show conveys topics that are great starting points for healthy conversations about current events/issues facing our world today. Many of the pieces also encourage further education. At the Hub alone, we discussed women’s rights, pollution and global warming, racism, migration and displacement, and even nuclear power. There were so many opportunities to analyze not only the art itself, but also the messages the artists were trying to convey.


One of Bella’s completed workbook pages.

When you enter the Hub you can pick up a guidebook (for a suggested $1 donation), and a keiki workbook for the kids. Both give you a little more information about the artists and/or their work and the children’s activity book includes questions to get the keiki thinking about the artwork and pages for their own art. We also picked up a scavenger hunt sheet at the entrance, but were too enthralled by the art to really look for any of it. After we left though, my girls enjoyed going over the scavenger hunt page thinking about where they saw or may have seen each item.

We had a few favorites on our visits that my girls wanted to see again and again. Those planning the biennial seemed to know exactly which ones the children would be most interested in and included those in the keiki workbook. Bean, 9, really loved Ken & Julia Yonetani’s “Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations” and the gorgeous clothing created by Marques Hanalei Marzan in “‘A’ahu Kino Lau,” while six-year-old Bella’s favorite was “Crossings: Project Another Country” by Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan. Both my girls enjoyed decorating the artists’ corresponding pages in their workbook on our drive home. You will find a sneak peek of each of these in the slideshow below, but you’ll have to head to there yourself to see the rest of these artists’ incredible work!


Ken & Julia Yonetani’s “Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations


Marques Hanalei Marzan’s “‘A’ahu Kino Lau”


Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan’s “Crossings: Project Another Country”

I appreciated that they didn’t include all the artists in the children’s workbook because there were a few pieces that were a little tough for my more sensitive daughter. One exhibit, “Islands in a Basket” by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, is included in the keiki workbook and is composed of three videos accompanied by poignant poetry, but the images in one video were pretty disturbing to my little ones. I recommend viewing the video here on YouTube to preview it and decide for yourself if you’d like to just walk past that exhibit (though I recommend the adults take a good look if you can). Another exhibit, “A Study of a Samoan Savage” by Yuki Kihara, included nude photos of a man. I did allow my children to explore those photos with me, because we try to keep an open dialogue in our home when it comes to that sort of thing, but some children may not be mature enough to handle it. You can find photos of two more exhibits below, as well as one each from Kihara’s and Jetnil-Kijiner’s, that you may want to approach with caution, but keep in mind that as an adult, these are incredible pieces with plenty of artistic and cultural merit. I encourage you to attend either with your spouse or another family so you can take turns leading the kids to the art you’d like them to see, while giving each other the opportunity to go back and enjoy the exhibits your children might not like. The bottom line here is to use your discretion with your keiki to determine what you’d like them to see.

While some exhibits at the Hub were not exactly appropriate for all ages, everything in the IBM building was child friendly. But I will warn you- at both locations it is vitally important that your children are well behaved. Much of the art has been created from objects that are quite tempting to little hands. I wouldn’t recommend bringing small children who can’t be contained in a stroller or who frequently run off or otherwise disobey. HB MIH BEHAVIORThe upstairs room in the IBM building is a walk-through experience, with every day objects all around that are not meant to be touched or rearranged in any way. One exhibit in the Hub, partially pictured above, “Crossings: Project Another Country” by Afredo and Isabel Aquilizan, is made of small boats filled with household objects including toys, dishes, ropes, blankets, and other items that easily attract little fingers. Both of my children, ages 9 and 6, admitted to having a hard time not touching this display in particular. Other displays are set up on the ground, but are not meant to be walked on. Parents- only bring children you can trust, and keep them with you at all times to ensure they are being respectful of the artists’ work.

One very special exhibit though was MADE just for the creative, hands-on spirit in all of us, especially the kids. It’s called “Graffiti Nature” created by TeamLab of Japan. In this interactive exhibit, visitors get to take part in the creation of the art. Before entering the room where it all happens, guests are given a black-line template, an outline of a living thing such as a flower, bird, lizard, butterfly, or frog. Once inside, there are stations set up with crayons and markers where you can color your critter. I recommend using bright, dark colors; skip the pastels- they don’t show up well. When your picture is complete, you can carry it to the back of the room to be scanned. Wait a moment, keeping your attention on the wall nearby the scanner, and soon your little critter will be scurrying, hopping, fluttering, or flying across the floor. Take some time to experiment with your keiki by standing or sitting completely still. What happens around you? What if you hop like frog? What happens to your critter when you follow it around the room?Does it freeze up, or maybe run away? Does it multiply? Or does it quickly get eaten?! I’ll leave you to discover the answers to these questions yourself. If you want to see videos of our art in motion from this exhibit, head over to my Instagram page!

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The 2017 Honolulu Biennal Art Festival at Ward is just the beginning for our family. We plan to head to more locations while it’s here and are looking forward to its return in two years. We can’t wait to see what new fascinating art awaits us. You can head to the Honolulu Biennial website to see all the locations, times, and costs for the festival. It runs through May 8, so definitely plan to carve out some time with your family to stop by. Just make sure you give yourself enough time to really explore!

Mahalo Ward Villages and for the opportunity to review this incredible event. It was unforgettable!

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