POW! WOW! takes its name from the impact art has on a viewer (pow!) and the reaction they feel (wow!), while of course referencing the Native American social gathering of the same name. The organization got its start in Hawaii, but has now grown into a global network of artists centered around an annual week-long event in Kaka’ako where they gather to collaborate on murals and other works of art.
“Basically, we are based on two principles: collaboration and the process of creating art and highlighting that process,” co-lead director Kamea Hadar explains. “The murals are [a good] way to highlight the process. They’re open to the public. I mean, you can’t hide it, you know? Everything is open for seeing and experiencing.”
With the growth of the organization, the POW! WOW! format is starting to go on the road, with large gatherings overseas as well. Tokyo played host to POW! WOW! Japan, with about 30 artists from Japan and overseas participating in the production of a series of murals at several sites in Tennozu Isle and other events designed to draw in members of the public, including launch and finale block parties, live painting and music, a kids day, discussions, and even some tattoo sessions.
According to Hadar, this focus on the community is part of what makes the project appealing for land owners. “A lot of times it is just a cold ask,” he says. “You know, we’re interested in having this thing, are you interested in having some art? It’s free; it’s public; it’s for the community. It’s going to bring attention to the community.”
He stresses that while POW! WOW! is careful to get permission from property owners, the artists are always free to paint whatever they like and to collaborate how they see fit with other participants.
When asked about the experience of holding the event in Japan, Hadar said that POW! WOW! is always a “big, chaotic, creative mess,” but that the Japan event was the most well-organized one yet, something probably connected to the country’s typical punctuality and need for order. Though he said the trait can be both a blessing and curse from the perspective of freewheeling artists, having encountered surprising inflexibility on minor issues like asking a local resident to use a different parking space.
Still, even those small negotiations are part of the team’s very extroverted creative process. From approaching property owners to reaching out the to the public to deciding among themselves what their mural will be, the POW! WOW! participants are about as far from the stereotype of the reclusive artist as it’s possible to be.
“Pow Wow’s all about cultural exchange, learning from and meeting different people, learning about their culture,” says Hadar. “That’s kind of like the whole point.”