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Esther Hi'ilani Candari

Oil and metal on wood panel


In 'ōlelo Hawai'i, the native language of my home state, there is a unique word that very roughly translates to responsibility - "kuleana". Like many words in Hawai'ian, it has multiple complex and contextual meanings. The meaning that I was raised most familiar with is akin to that of the scriptural use of the word "stewardship". Kuleana to me means a sacred duty that is embedded in the essence of my identity as an individual and as part of a community. It refers to that which I am entrusted to care for, nourish, protect, and share. But it is more than simply a categorization of things and actions, it is a mindset and lifestyle. It is simultaneously a noun and a verb, and it is the most accurate way to describe the way I view my purpose as an artist. A multiplicity of facets in my life taught me from an early age to recognize and live with gratitude for the physical, spiritual, and emotional blessings in my life. My upbringing ignited in me the desire to use whatever means I might be given to alleviate and enlighten. The power art has to directly bring emotional and spiritual enlightenment is what drew me to become an artist. As I have developed my identity and skills as an artist, I have come to understand, oftentimes through deeply personal and spiritual experiences, that my kuleana as an artist is to be a conduit for divine light and truth. It is my kuleana to enlighten individuals to a greater sense of their own self worth and purpose and to enlighten the communities I function in with a more inclusive and empathetic view of the individuals and groups within and without their circles. Alternately, this piece also sublty hints at the underlying tension I have always felt as a non-indigenous individual living on an island with a sordid history of colonialism. As a mixed race individual, Hawai'i is the only place I have ever felt I truly belonged, but I somehow have never felt I fully belonged. This veiled conflict is reflected by the species of plants in the background, all of them familiar to both residents and visitors to the island, but none of them idigenous. A portion of the proceeds from this piece will be donated to education scholarships in Hawai'i.


Esther Hi’ilani Candari is primarily a figurative artist who explores concepts such as; multiracial identity; gender and the female gaze in the context of religion, and the connections between ecology, culture, and sense of place. Much of her work draws upon her experiences growing up in Hawai’i in an Asian American mixed race household. She has an BFA from BYU-H, an MFA from Liberty University, and has studied at the New York Academy of Art. In addition to her studio work she manages programming for Writ & Vision Gallery, serves as the art editor for Wayfare magazine, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Dialogue Foundation. Currently, she lives in Utah County with her husband, two rescue dogs, and an ever-growing collection of houseplants.


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