Inouye, Mink memorials sure to stir up passions

Honolulu Star Advertiser - August 2, 2013
David Shapiro

Within a year or so in downtown Honolulu, there will be a new $250,000 art piece dedicated to Hawaii's U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.

Sometime after that, there will be another $250,000 art piece honoring the late U.S. Rep. Patsy T. Mink.

The works are expected to be sculptures or statues, but the direction from the Legislature is only that they be public works of art and be three-dimensional.
The new law calling for the works of art came at the urging of state Sen. Mike Gabbard.

There was little legislative discussion about the monuments, except to note that there are already statues memorializing King Kamehameha, Queen Liliuokalani, Father Damien and Duke Kahanamoku.

Damien and Liliuokalani flank the two public entrances to the state Capitol, once again showing Hawaii's unique view that this locus of democracy would be watched over by heroes of Hawaii who were a Catholic priest and a member of royalty.

The challenging bronze statue of Damien by New York artist Marisol Escobar was first set in the Capitol's atrium, but officials feared it would crash through the unsupported floor and land in House chambers, so it was moved to its Beretania Street location.

A three-person committee, picked by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Senate President Donna Mercado Kim and House Speaker Joe Souki will, with the help of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, pick artists for the two new art works.

The Inouye piece is supposed to be ready in time to commemorate the 2014 anniversary of his death next Dec. 17.

Somewhere in the department devoted to punishing all good deeds, there is a special division dedicated to public controversies about public monuments. Although all involved are hoping for the best with the Inouye and Mink pieces, public expenditures of $500,000 will not go unnoticed.

Former Gov. John Waihee probably has developed a special twitch for every time he is reminded of the public furor in 1994 over the design, location and construction of the Korean and Vietnam War memorial on the Capitol lawn. The end result is a sensitive remembrance, although it started in controversy.

Eva Laird Smith, executive director of the state foundation, says there is no dispute regarding the statues for Mink and Inouye.

"These are two distinguished statespersons, it goes beyond controversy or politics, it needs to be considered in a larger perspective of honoring their signature contributions," she said in an interview.

Abercrombie allowed the enabling legislation to go into law without his signature not because of the memorials, but because the state's special fund for works of art would be used for the design and consultation work rather than their actual construction.

There will likely be more public debate over what they should look like and where they should go.

According to the law, the Inouye piece should "portray the life, vision, accomplishments, impact and legacy" of the late Senator.

"The design shall include but is not limited to a likeness of Daniel K. Inouye at some stage of his life," the bill states.

The Mink art work is to "properly honor her memory and to utilize her example as an inspiration to cur- rent and future generations."

Artists from Hawaii are supposed to be given preference, although there is no mention of state Rep. Faye Hanohano's dictum that more state-purchased art should not only be created by artists from Hawaii, but by native Hawaiians.

Hanohano later had to apologize, because she originally ordered any art created by what she called "haoles, Japs, paranges, pakes" to be removed from her office.
Art, especially public art, always evokes a certain passion, and even sight unseen, the Inouye and Mink memorials will fuel that fire.