There’s a curious bipolarity to waiting for the opening of a graffiti/mural fest high above a palm-tree speckled beachfront Xanadu, on an enormous lanai (don’t call it a terrace, haole). For someone who lives in lower Manhattan, the Surfjack’s penthouse is a far cry from typical street art environs; which usually involve ducking through a hole in a fence, or dodging the local bodega boys.

PowWow Honolulu isn’t your typical art fest. While Frieze skews ever closer to the embodiment of the ‘pinkys-up for Lapsang Souchong’ Sloane Ranger trust fund wet dream, and Basel Miami manifests as the social event of any season (this year I heard it described, without irony, many more times than one, as ‘fashion week without clothes’), PowWow remains a relatively grassroots event that focusses on – horror of horrors – the art.

Easily compartmentalized as a ‘graffiti’ event, PowWow founder Jasper Wong was clearly at the forefront in recognizing that the delineation between ‘street’ and ‘fine’ art was a capricious one – complete fucking nonsense, in layman’s terms – and based his event around a global community of artists who see no difference in the canvasses of the street and of the gallery.

Though it started in Hong Kong in 2010, and has expanded to events in Taiwan, Japan, Washington, and Long Beach, PowWow resonates as a Hawaiian affair. Centred around the gleefully gentrifying (gentrified?) formerly industrial Honolulu neighbourhood of Kaka’ako, PowWow evidently finds solace, and inspiration, in the pan-continental, pan-cultural Hawaiian scene; ensconced firmly between east and west.

Or, as Wong puts it, with characteristic understatement, ‘It’s my hometown and after living in various cities around the globe for 10 years, I wanted to give something back to the city that raised me’.

PowWow continues to display a rebellious streak, far from the Deitches and Gagosians of the world, even as their progeny participate. Daniel Arsham, the Perrotin-represented cross-platform multi-hyphenate, represented lovely this year with a pair of murals and an artist’s talk with Jeff Hamada (the founder of BOOOOOOOM). As did Tokidoki’s founder Simone Legno, the Italian illustrator-cum-anime opportunist extraordinaire, who did a large-scale mural, and a talk with Jasper Wong. Other artists included Ricky Watts, Faile, Whole9, and Royyaldog.

Photos by Eunji Paula Kim