Glenn Wharton, author of The Painted King: Art, Activism, and Authenticity in Hawaii, recently spoke about his book, queer conservation, and the complexities of community-based cultural engagement. The interview appeared online in both San Francisco’s Bay Area Reporter and Chicago’s Windy City Times.
On Wharton’s attraction to Hawai‘i: I’ve always been attracted to Hawaiian culture, in part because of the falsetto singing, ukulele music, and storytelling through dance, but also because of the gentle nature of many Hawaiians that I’ve met over the years. As an island culture, everything moves more slowly. People in semi-rural areas like the one that surrounds the Kamehameha I sculpture embrace outsiders with warm aloha, but only after the outsider has proven that they have a genuine love for the culture and the land.
On the decision to restore the Kamehameha statue to its painted form: “As I got deeper into the community, I learned there were many voices, and they didn’t all agree on the sculpture’s meaning or how to go about conserving it. Indeed, some of my colleagues on the mainland did accuse me of ‘going native’ in that I was sharing professional authority with people who didn’t ‘understand art history,’ and that we should honor the original artist’s intention no matter what local residents think today. Maintaining the rather quirky tradition of painting the sculpture in life-like colors that’s evolved since its 1883 installation was going a bit too far for some of my colleagues.”