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The once bare exterior walls at the back of Hale Kauanoe residence hall at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo are now covered in bright colors and vivid images depicting Hawaiian mele, moʻolelo ʻāina (stories of place) and Hawaiʻi’s cultural and historical heritage.

The mural was brought about as part of the Mele Murals project which began in late 2013 by the Estria Foundation. The project uses art to promote international social change by prompting local aritists, youth and members of the community spanning the eight major Hawaiian islands to create a series of large-scale outdoor murals. Creative Director Estria Miyashiro engages cultural advisors and students to honor the cultural heritage of place through art education and ʻāina (land)-based learning. His goal is to develop visual storytellers, to preserve Hawaiian values, increase cross-generation and cross island engagement and share the mele (song) and stories that highlight important artistic, cultural and historical themes with a global audience.

After careful thought, planning, and a lot of painting, the Mele Mural at UH Hilo was finally unveiled and blessed on March 19.

UH Hilo student Ulu Ornellas paints a section of the mural

mele mural birds

“I think just seeing the whole picture definitely came together—definitely told our story of Hilo,” said Ulu Ornellas, a junior at UH Hilo majoring in Hawaiian studies and agriculture who was part of the core hui (group) of students who headed the project. “I think it was pretty amazing how much of us different people came together to make this. Now we all closer friends, so it’s definitely a good community builder—getting to connect and network and just learn more about Hilo. I think it looks amazing!”

In his remarks at the unveiling, Miyashiro noted the help of the lead artists, the painters and the schools and businesses involved with Mele Murals, as well as their journey, especially the meditation they did to decide what to paint. “(The process) is very exciting, especially when somebody says something like, ‘Oh, I have this idea’ or five, six people go, ‘I have that idea too!’” he said, calling them “chicken skin” moments.

In addition to the hui, other contributors to the mural were students from Youth Challenge, E Makaʻala Elementary School, Laupāhoehoe Community Public Charter School, the UH Hilo Pre-Pharmacy Club and UH Hilo residence halls.

“This definitely has been a journey, both spiritually and emotionally. It was really a blessing and really fun for us to collaborate together as a hui in putting all these different elements together.” said UH Hilo student Kuʻulei Martin-Kalamau.

More on the UH Hilo Mele Mural

—Stories written by UH Hilo student Kara Nelson

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