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From paintings to artifacts and ceramics, the second floor of the exhibition is filled with art.

Researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo collaborated to illuminate the forgotten history of Koreans on Hawaiʻi Island. Faculty from the English, business, language and art departments contributed to the new exhibition, “One Heart: Korean Art and History Across the Pacific,” which brings together art and new historical research at Wailoa Center in Hilo.

woman holding paper and pencil on a gravestone
Seri Luangphinith traces a gravestone in Pahala.

At the helm of UH Hilo’s partnership is Seri Luangphinith, an English professor who has done extensive research into the history of Korean immigrants to Hawaiʻi Island. Among the displays, visitors will find gravestone rubbings she collected from field work on Hawaiʻi Island. Through Luangphinith’s exemplary research, Korean families on island have been able to reconnect with long-lost generations of their ancestors.

“We need to better understand and appreciate the Asian presence on this island,” said Luangphinith. “Koreans are a forgotten people here, and that’s unfortunate given their contributions to the local community and to Korea.”

grave stone rubbing
The exhibition features four rubbings of gravestones Luangphinith discovered of Koreans who lived and died on Hawaiʻi Island.

Finding history

Luangphinith’s research spans from the arrival of the first Koreans to Hawaiʻi Island to the exploration of Korean cemeteries.

The first wave of Korean immigrants arrived from 1905 through the 1920s. The second wave came during the Japanese occupation, followed by another arrival during the Korean War.

“On a hunch, I started looking at Korean cemeteries because I knew that Japanese and Chinese immigrants recorded hometowns and families on their graves and sure enough the Koreans also did the same thing,” Luangphinith said.

Creative showcase

Art fills the second floor of the exhibition, which showcases the diverse voices and visions of Korean artists. From paintings and mixed-media artworks to artifacts and ceramics, the gallery show takes the viewer on a creative, emotional and historical journey. Michael Marshal, an art professor at UH Hilo, curated the exhibit, and artworks were juried or extensively assessed by Mizin Shin, an assistant professor at the University of Rochester. Faculty and students from UH Hilo’s art department helped prepare the works for display.

“Collaboration is a journey, within which everyone who is engaged with the process comes away with a broader understanding of the subjects,” said Marshall.

The exhibition opened on May 3 and will run through June 20. It is supported by the UH Hilo College of Arts and Sciences and the UH Mānoa Office of Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity. Major funding comes from the Hawaiʻi Council for the Humanities through support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Black and white image of artist
Gary Chong

Free online event

Talk Story with digital media artist Gary Chong, June 1, 10:30 a.m. Chong, who is Korean and Native Hawaiian, will share thoughts on how his art captures the dark side of Hawaiʻi plantation life for Koreans that is far from the local glorified “melting pot.”

To register for Zoom, email:

For more go to UH Hilo Stories.

By Susan Enright

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