‘Mo‘olelo Archetypes’, a series of paintings by Hawaiian artist Solomon Enos, brings to life a scene from the epic Hawaiian myth Hiʻiakaikapoliopele. The heroine Hiʻiaka is on a quest to retrieve the most handsome man in all the islands for her fiery sister Pele, the volcano goddess. On the way she encounters an underground hidden world of shape-shifting insect/arachnid-people, who invite her to stay and share their plentiful resources.
In each painting the artist reimagines this hidden world, creating an entomological character based on a Hawaiian species. Like these species, each has an important role to play in this mythical ecosystem and has the relevant clothing and implements. The apparel depicted has been inspired by collections stewarded by the Museum, re-energising the artefacts, as Enos says, to ‘begin an exploration into Hawaiian culture and entomology through a fanciful voyage into my ancestors’ imaginations’.
The artist embraces the Hawaiian tradition of mo‘olelo, which is constituted of different types of recounted knowledge including history, myth and legend. Moʻolelo are a way of storing and sharing Hawaiian cultural memory that guides future generations in understanding the world. The paintings, with his accompanying narrative, simultaneously blend history, culture and ecology with the fanciful, highlighting the intertwinement of cultural and biological ecosystems. Enos has used Instagram posts to share his work while creating these paintings, evolving mo‘olelo, as he says, and ‘continuing the work of his ancestors in a different medium’.