Kalahele’s assertion of being a Hawaiian artist originated in 1975 with the founding of Hale Nauā III, Society of Maoli Arts, under Rocky Jensen. According to Kalahele, “It was the first organization made up of artists who made it a point to say, ‘We are Hawaiian.’ We used our Hawaiian names. It was important to take hold of our identities and what we were doing as Hawaiians.”
A well-known activist and aloha ʻāina, for thirty-three years Kalahele curated an annual art exhibition and poetry reading at the Queen Liliʻuokalani Children’s Center on Hālona Street in Honolulu, where many artists and writers took part in commemorating Liliʻuokalani’s birthday. He has also been published in numerous anthologies and has shown in exhibitions spanning several decades.
Kalahele often combines ancestral and traditional moʻolelo with modern influences and current events. His work addresses pressing issues related to Hawaiian culture, history, equity, and the illegal occupation of Hawaiʻi by the United States.
A sometimes polarizing figure in the Hawaiian community, Kalahele stands firmly with a lifetime of work that bears witness to the specific challenges of Hawaiian identity, alienation, dispossession, exploitation of land, and decolonization. His tools are strong design and moʻolelo senses, along with a keen understanding of Hawaiʻi’s history.
Kalahele has inspired not only other artists, but also entire exhibitions. The theme for the 2019 Honolulu Biennial, To Make Wrong / Right / Now, came from one of Kalahele’s poems, thus mobilizing the next generation of artists and aloha ʻāina, both in Hawaiʻi and internationally.
ARTIST STATEMENT: Art is just another voice, another way to communicate. I have something to say, so I say it. We as Hawaiians used to suffer from a stifled voice, but not so much anymore.