“Honoring Ipu”

“Honoring Ipu” features a unique collection of decorated gourds by Jelena Clay and Ipu Heke and Umeke by Kalim Smith. The exhibit is on display from March 3 through April 22, 2012 at Volcano Art Center Gallery in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

Original decorated gourd by Jelena Clay photographed by Jesse Kalawe

The exhibit features hawaiian ipu gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) of varying shape and size embellished in both traditional and contemporary design, honoring the deeply rooted cultural practice of decorating functional vessels used as tools, musical instruments, and in ceremony. Each item on display, is the dried fruit of the gourd vine, unique in color, pattern, blemishes and irregularities. It is often these irregularities which dictate how the gourd will be used once the seeds and pith are removed and fully dried. Captivated by these irregularities, Jelena says the gourds themselves tell her what to do. The individual “personalities” of each one, with their bulges and irregularities, ask her for ornamentation with seed lei, dye colors, hula or plant images. Her constant challenge is to answer their demand for embellishment of natural materials, carving, dying, and burn etching.

Jelena Clay

One of the more common applications of ipu art is as a percussion instrument used to provide a beat for hula dancing. There are two types of ipu, the ipu heke and the ipu heke ‘ole Both are made from gourds that have been cut off at the neck and hollowed. The ipu heke is two such gourds joined together with a hole cut in the top to allow the sound to escape. Chants and dances in ancient Hawaii were accompanied only by percussion instruments. This art was suppressed after the arrival of Christian Missionaries in 1820, but revived under King David Kalākaua during his reign of 1874 to 1891. The annual hula competition, The Merrie Monarch Festival, celebrates his life and the revival of theses arts in Hawaii today.

Kalim Smith (in dark blue, far right) and company showing traditional gourd hula implements

Volcano Art Center’s “Honoring Ipu” exhibit will be on display during this year’s annual festival as well as other special gallery events, including print and book signings by local artist and authors. For a complete listing of events please visit www.volcanoartcenter.org.

The public is invited to view these transformed gourds during a reception honoring both Clay and Smith on Saturday, March 3, from 5-7 p.m. ,or daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. from March 3 – April 22, 2012. Call (808) 967-7565 or visit www.volcanoartcenter.org for more information.