Nicole Makaʻāhinaʻālohilohi Jack and Kūpono Duncan work on the mural in the Madin Lab.

A collaboration between marine scientists at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and local artists resulted in a beautiful and inspiring laboratory space at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB).

Elizabeth Madin and Josh Madin joined the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology as HIMB research professors in May 2018. In their shared lab space, they conduct quite different yet complementary research. Their main areas of overlap are coral reefs and ocean conservation.

When the researchers first saw the un-renovated version of what is now their lab space, Elizabeth Madin imagined a lively, underwater mural. She shared her passion for creating art with Beth Lenz, an HIMB graduate student who conceived of and directed the SymbioSEAS science-art collaboration, and eventually connected with local artists Nicole Makaʻāhinaʻālohilohi Jack, Kūpono Duncan and Cory Kamehanaokalā Taum.

Jack, Duncan and the Madins discussed the lab’s research interests and themes, and the Madins shared satellite and drone imagery and large, three-dimensional reconstructions of reefs from their field expeditions.

Close up of a portion of the mural in the Madin Lab. Photo credit: Madin Lab.

“We sent a slew of reef-related images and artistic photos to show the aesthetic we were looking for—something more subtle and abstract than literal, and with a palette of colours like one would see when looking at reefs from underwater or from the air or space,” said Elizabeth Madin. “After that, the artists sent sketches of what they were envisioning. It fit with our vision remarkably well!”

The HIMB facilities team and director were engaged in the process, and over the subsequent six months, with Jack and Duncan leading the effort, the team of three artists created the mural.

“Working with Nicole, Kūpono and Cory was such a pleasure, and they were incredibly professional,” said Elizabeth Madin. “They were also really welcoming in terms of having us help with the painting itself, and we even ended up getting our children involved!”

Elizabeth is hoping to get funding to do more of this type of work with school groups around Oʻahu.

“The goal,” she said, “is to raise awareness through public murals of the many threats coral reefs in Hawaiʻi are facing and what we as a larger community can do to help.”

About the artists

Nicole Makaʻāhinaʻālohilohi Jack is a Native Hawaiian multimedia artist based in Honolulu. She has contributed to the design and execution of collaborative murals state wide, both as an independently commissioned artist and in her previous position as the program coordinator for The Estria Foundation/Mele Murals. Currently she is working in the field of Environmental Conservation and finds the natural world to be a primary influence in much of her art. Jack draws heavily on her collegiate background in Pacific Island Studies and finds profound inspiration in the industrious genius of her ancestors.

Kūpono Duncan is a Native Hawaiian artist from Kailua, Oʻahu. His artwork primarily attempts to bridge motifs of the past with experiences in the present, using contemporary mediums. Duncan has numerous years of experience as a muralist, contributing to pieces on display at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center, Bishop Museum, Sheraton Waikiki, Mokulēʻia, The Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology on Moku o Loʻe, and various buildings around Honolulu. He strives continuously to perpetuate his culture through multimedia art.

Completed mural in the Madin Lab.