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UH West O‘ahu welcomes ‘Guardians’ sculpture


A dedication and blessing ceremony for "Nā Kia‘i o Kapolei” was held on March 25 at the University of Hawai‘i–West O‘ahu. Image courtesy of UHWO Staff

The University of Hawai‘i–West O‘ahu welcomed last week a new work of art — titled “Nā Kia‘i o Kapolei,” or “The Guardians of Kapolei” — which now welcomes those who come to campus.

The sculpture by artist Jessica Kay Bodner is the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts’ (SFCA) latest Art in Public Places Program installation. “Nā Kia‘i o Kapolei” was honored with a dedication and blessing ceremony on Monday, March 25, at UH West O‘ahu, where the sculpture — which consists of six pieces ranging from 11 to 15 feet tall — is displayed on the grassed circle at the campus’ front roundabout.

“‘Nā Kia‘i,’ which to me represent guardians and the six Hawaiian islands served by the University of Hawai‘i, are really open to interpretation by the viewer,” Bodner said. “They are abstract in nature, giving the viewer their own inspiration and ideas as to what it means to them personally, possibly opening up avenues for dialogue and learning. It is my hope that these Kia‘i serve as a beacon and landmark for the campus community for many years to come.”

Bodner was selected by an Art Advisory Committee and members of the local community to create a piece for the campus, according to an SFCA news release. The sculptures, inspired by anu‘u (Hawaiian oracle towers), are made of woven stainless steel and painted in a red, bronze color to reflect the volcanic red dirt characteristic of the region.

“We are very fortunate to commission an artist who could create such meaningful work of art for this space,” SFCA Executive Director Karen Ewald said in the news release. “The State Foundation is honored to fulfill projects such as these as we work to beautify our public spaces and celebrate the cultures that make Hawai‘i so special.”

Six tower sculptures on a grassed circle.
“Nā Kia‘i o Kapolei” at UH West O‘ahu. Image courtesy of Jessica Kay Bodner,

‘Welcome home’ 

Nearly 100 guests attended the dedication and blessing ceremony, featuring a special program of kūkulukumuhana (pooling of energy) and mū ka waha (sharing silence with intention) to welcome each kia‘i into the community and campus.

The event began with a welcome by Dr. Manu Aluli Meyer, Kūlana o Kapolei, and opening chant by Dr. Lelemia Irvine, Assistant Professor of Physics at UH West O‘ahu. The program included presenting lei kauna‘oa and leo makana (gift of voice) to each of the six kia‘i by six UH West O‘ahu representatives: Dr. Camonia Graham-Tutt, Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs; Kawena Komeiji, Hawaiian Pacific Resources Librarian; Hali‘aaloha Ma‘ele-Ramos, UH West O‘ahu student; Dr. Joy Mahiko, Assistant Professor in the Education Department; Dave McDonald, Vice Chancellor for Administration; and Beverly Orillo, Environmental Health and Safety Specialist. The lei were made by DreamHouse public charter school students and teacher Chaney Lopez, a UH West O‘ahu graduate.

“I think it’s a beautiful representation of our future,” UH West O‘ahu student Ma‘ele-Ramos said of the sculpture. “Nā Kia‘i will protect all those that come to educate themselves and will bestow on them the mana that is needed to persevere and become a force of change within the world.”

Ma‘ele-Ramos, a senior majoring in Applied Science with a concentration on Hawaiian and Indigenous Health Healing, added that she was honored and grateful to be part of the ceremony.

“I am acting only as a vessel, gathering all the energies around me to deliver to the kia‘i I welcome,” she said. “With the energy and kōkua of all that surrounds us, Nā Kia‘i will be gifted with the mana to guard and share with and throughout Kapolei, UH West O‘ahu, and all the other UH campuses for as long as they remain there.”

The program concluded with remarks from UH West O‘ahu Chancellor Maenette Benham, Ewald, and Bodner, followed by food and refreshments for guests.

“Mahalo to everyone here today for joining us for this very special occasion,” Benham said, “to welcome home ‘Nā Kia‘i o Kapolei.’ ”

A man blessing a sculpture.
Dr. Lelemia Irvine at the dedication and blessing ceremony for “Nā Kia‘i o Kapolei.”

‘An incredible joy’

As a practicing professional artist for over 30 years, Bodner focuses on sculpture, light art, and public art, according to the SFCA news release. Her work has been commissioned across the country and abroad for public, commercial and private spaces including hospitals, libraries, airports, public parks, hotels, places of worship, and educational institutions.

“My inspiration for any public art piece starts with the place and is site-specific,” Bodner said. “Local culture, history, and the environment play a role in the creative process.”

She continued, “For this project, I was in my upcountry Maui home when a vision came to me in a dream of this artwork. The next morning I started sketching it up in my studio. When I had it just right, I built a scale model in Balsa wood, took site visit photos, and created a scale representation of the piece, which was the basis for creating it in three dimensions.”

Bodner said “Nā Kia‘i o Kapolei” was over three years in the making.

“To see the piece finally installed is such an incredible joy and gives me overwhelming gratitude,” she said. “This piece has been one of my favorite accomplishments in my over 30-year-career as an artist. Creating art while living in Hawai‘i has taught me so much about traditional Hawaiian culture and given me a closer connection to the ‘āina.”

To see more photos from the event, visit the Nā Kiaʻi o Kapolei Blessing album on Flickr.

Two women smiling and wearing lei.
UH West O‘ahu Chancellor Maenette Benham (left) with “Nā Kia‘i o Kapolei” artist Jessica Kay Bodner at the dedication and blessing ceremony for the sculpture.

Images courtesy of Jessica Kay Bodner and UHWO Staff