Controversial statue will be moved

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Park patrons look at the new statue Tuesday in Liliuokalani Park and Gardens in Hilo.

A statue recently erected in Lili‘uokalani Gardens in Hilo will be moved after the County Council Finance Committee on Tuesday rejected the donation of the sculpture.

Last month, a bronze statue called “Ho‘omalule ‘Upena Kiloi” — or “Metamorphosis of a Net Fisherman” — was installed in the park, leading to public controversy over whether the abstract artwork was appropriate for the location.

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The statue is valued at an estimated $10,000 and was created by Hilo artist Henry Bianchini, who also created the King David Kalakaua statue in Kalakaua Park in Hilo, among several other installations.

Council members on Tuesday discussed a resolution that would formally accept the donation of the statue, and questioned how the placement of the statue was determined in the first place.

Maurice Messina, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, apologized during the meeting, saying he and his department did not do a thorough enough job working with the public or other stakeholder groups to determine the proper site.

“I should have put the brakes on this because the paperwork wasn’t done,” Messina said. “But, on the bright side, people are having a discussion about art.”

Messina said Parks and Recreation improperly rushed the installation of the statue after its donation and did not consult with members of the public or the Friends of Lili‘uokalani Gardens board about whether a more appropriate location for the statue exists.

The style of the statue — which depicts a man, metamorphosed into a fish, offering a net full of fish to the community — is at odds with the traditional Japanese garden aesthetic of the rest of the park, said Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, who added that many people have called her office to ask about the statue.

“I didn’t appreciate not knowing anything about it and then getting calls about it,” Lee Loy said. “I think it has to come down.”

Lee Loy also pointed out that it seems improper that the committee only heard a resolution to formally accept the donation of the statue on Tuesday, nearly a month after the county already installed it.

Messina said his department has received some “pretty visceral calls” about the statue, although he said the public seems to be evenly split between loving or hating the piece.

“The location really seems to be the sticking point,” Messina said.

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Messina said the department will work with the East Hawaii Cultural Center, the Friends of Lili‘uokalani Gardens and Bianchi to find a more suitable location for the artwork. In the meantime, he said he preferred to abandon the resolution to accept the donation and urged the council to consider a revised resolution at a future meeting.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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