“The Molokai Process” artist writing

After talking story with Uncle Mac Poepoe, artist James Jack touches the earth to make a drawing near the entrance to Molokai’s Mo‘omomi Preserve in 2017. Photo by Nadine Powell.


Molokai Window was born in 2007 while I was living on O‘ahu. During that time I visited Molokai and was impressed by the community’s strength in preserving the island’s heritage. Spiritual sites were honored, protected and alive. Despite reports in the media on O‘ahu which said otherwise, I saw their perspective was full of positivity and hope. Over time I realized there was a bright shining lesson at the core of the Molokai community which is very important for other communities to learn from. That is: how to protect, value and stay in communication with spirits, nature and one’s own history in the complicated present we now live in. This requires love, conscious effort against adversity, and aloha. This seed resonated with me for many years while I was making other creative works, many of which reconnect people with the earth.

More recently I had the opportunity to return to Molokai to listen to the spirits. I was overwhelmed by a feeling to touch the earth. I felt stories pouring out of the soft grains of dirt. I touched my finger on to a small sketchbook over and over, listening deeper for the stories that Molokai wanted to tell. There were some sites that said no, and I listened to that as well, out of respect for the dirt.  Soon after I showed this sketchbook to Healoha Johnston, interim director of curatorial affairs and curator of the arts of Hawai‘i at the Honolulu Museum of Art, and she, too, felt that we had something to learn from the lifeways of Molokai. How could we convey this message to others? This was the beginning of Molokai Window as an art project. At that moment one of the guiding principles we cherished was: This art work will only exist if the community wants to open the window together with us.

Stories have been central to this artwork and I would like to share one story I was recently told on Molokai while holding a workshop with high school students. It is a story about the sea/land border in Kamalō, which brings to life the area from which materials are being borrowed for Molokai Window. It is just one sampling from many other colorful stories that are a part of the island’s vibrant history.

A mind map a Molokai High School student made during an artist workshop organized by teacher Ric Ornellas in 2018.


Hunter DeMello told this story while he drew a mind map of a place where he often plays behind his “gram’s” house. Speaking out loud was an integral part of making this illustrative drawing for the rest of us observing. It starts with an island, which he draws quickly in the shape of a peninsula a short walk behind grandma’s house. He continues with the stones circling around Keawanui fish pond, a revived space where he often plays with family. I recall the mist in the early morning when I walked down to the fishpond last year with Uncle Walter. His love for the pond shines from his eyes and fills the sketchpad with light. The space is an active living environment where he recently saw a stingray playing in the ocean. The mangroves, plants and fish are an active part of the space. The student recalls each of these spaces in relation to a foot pathway across dirt while walking through the forest to and from the ocean. His story was being carefully constructed for all of us who were listening. His story brings the place to life, and is an important shade in the opening of the Molokai Window.

Molokai High School teachers at the Talk Story on Dirt Artist Workshop in Sust-‘āina-ble Molokaiʻs permaculture garden. Photo by Mihoko Jack


Lessons learned
Over the course of this project, I have visited the island numerous times, often with Healoha, and found a gentle embrace from the community. During a one-month residency last year I listened to the elders, youth and other residents in a patient and respectful manner. While working with them I learned important lessons that I would like to share with others:

  1. People on Molokai are proud of their dirt and really care about it. We share this passion in common; I love dirt. Rather than talking about art in an aloof way, I spoke directly with people about ‘āina and came to better understand people’s deep connection with it. This depth has guided the diaries of dirt sketches I drew one by one with traces of dirt. It also informed the oral interviews I held with community members and residents to grasp ancient knowledge. Their resilient spirits have protected the dirt to make it possible to be self-sufficient throughout invasions, developers and outside forces. And the dirt remembers.
  1. The “Molokai process” is part of all dialogue that occurs. This process requires mutual respect, adjusting to the speed and pace of the island. These dialogues enrich and empower both sides so that mutual benefit is found together. Open dialogues have blossomed from one to the other because of caring relationships between ‘ohana members. To feel the depth of these relationships, I held workshops with high school teachers, the Molokai Arts Center community, high school students as well as other intimate groups on the island. These workshops are not secondary or additional parts of the exhibition—they are primary sources for determining the content, shape and color of the art works that will be on display.
  1. The power of stories. Memories are told through these mo’olelo, sharing the past with others. Both telling and listening keep them alive. The organic spiraling manner of telling has tremendous meaning in our worldview. Life is full of circles and gets more and more colorful the more we learn how to enjoy this process. While drawing on paper with dirt, Healoha and I have noticed people start with a spiral on Molokai. This piko is the beginning of all life which grows from the center. This spiral opens the interconnectivity weaving humans, animals, plants and all other things together.
  1. Seeing with spiritual eyes. This and many of these lessons have been taught to me by Malia Akutagawa, the spiritual guide for this artwork. Her kindness in sharing stories has made the opening of this window possible one shade at a time. One by one the louvers of this window have been opened while learning how to see through spiritual eyes. These eyes can be developed through artistic work, but they can be used far beyond the museum to see the world with an insightful view. With spiritual eyes the land is healing from suffering, inequity and difficulty. The ocean comes back to its richness in harmony with people. A future of self-determination where the land comes back to life is possible.

These are just a few lessons that have informed this artwork. There are so many more. Mahalo nui loa to Malia Akutagawa Esq., Uncle Walter Ritte, the Molokai Arts Center, Ric Ornellas, Matt Yamashita, Uncle Bobby Alcain, Sust‘āina-ble Molokai and all those who make the opening of this window possible. Together we can change the world one grain of dirt at a time.


*Opening April 26 at Honolulu Museum of Art is the exhibition Molokai Window, a series of two works on paper, a video by Matt Yamashita, a piko of resilience, quotes from key community members and a large window bearing dirt borrowed from Molokai. This post originally appeared on the museum blog site here: http://blog.honoluluacademy.org/places-found-by-memory-artist-james-jack-on-molokai-window/

“Triangulation” Exhibition, Workshop & Book


Tokyo — Goto — Ho Chi Minh City


Exhibition, Conference and Workshop

March 2018

Exhibition Room, University Hall 2F
Faculty of Music, Ueno Campus, Tokyo University of the Arts

Tokyo University of the Arts: Yoshitaka Mōri, Tomo Yamazaki, Sawako Ishii, Jeremy Woolsey, Tanja Sillman, Kazuya Yukimura, Yuka Ikawa and Chiho Oka
Ho Chi Minh City University of Fine Arts: Huynh Thanh Trang, Truong Boi Ngoc and Nguyen Hoang Yen

Guest Artist
James Jack(Yale-NUS College)

The title for this project ‘Triangulation” is derived from a cartographic technique. The determination of the location of one point is enabled by forming a triangle to it from two other known points. This technique is often used to identify the position of a boat for navigation. We apply this concept to think beyond the fixed relations between two places such as Tokyo and Ho Chi Minh or Japan and Vietnam, but also the ongoing processes of making relationship between any two cities or any two nations.

The point for our triangulation is Goto Island in Nagasaki Prefecture. These multiple points leads to the exploration of long-term, complicated and flexible relationships that cannot be reduced to direct one to one between two nations, two cities and even two universities. This includes consideration not only with human relationships, but also with networks of animals like the hachikuma bird and fishes and plants: it also asks us to rethink about environmental issues in the history. We discuss different layers of exchanges through our research and artworks on the theme of triangulation.

Organized by:
Graduate School of Global Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts

More imformation


Global Arts Research 2017-2018


東京芸術大学 上野キャンパス 音楽学部 大学会館2階 展示室

ホーチミン市美術大学:ウィン・タン・チャンHuynh Thanh Trang、チュン・ボイ・ノックTruong Boi Ngoc、グエン・ホアン・イェンNguyen Hoang Yen

ゲスト・アーティスト:ジェームズ・ジャック James Jack(Yale-NUS College)


More imformation

Artistic Engagement with Maritime Pathways

Friday, March 2, 2018
3:00 – 4:30 pm

Tokioka Room (Moore Hall 319)

Room change: Center for Korean Studies’ auditorium




University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa iLab
22 February 2018
03:00 PM – 05:00 PM

Part One: Artist Projects
James JACK

Part Two: Discussion


Toyomi Hoshina, Professor of Art, Tokyo University of the Arts
Hoshina is known for his large-scale, site-specific installations that explore the duality of nature and artifice. He often utilizes natural materials such as wood, handmade paper and Sumi-ink to create geometric architectural structures that have been featured at the 12th Paris Biennale, Chengdu Biennale, Echigo-Tsumari Triennale and organizer of Ueno Town Art Museum in Tokyo. This talk will focus on nuclear radiation flowing in cycles of rainwater including ecological changes in water invisible to humans, but felt in the body directly through interrelation between parts.

James Jack, Assistant Professor of Art, Yale-NUS College, Singapore
Jack is known for his socially-engaged art practice in the Asia Pacific Region. His work focuses on the importance of conversation and interview as a process of remembering and recovering island histories. These become the foundation for his subtle installations of material objects, films, sound, and more that have been featured at the Setouchi Triennale, Busan Biennale Sea Art Festival, Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore and Satoshi Koyama Gallery in Tokyo. This talk will focus on the Pacific as a rich source for stories of interaction with spirits including social and ecological changes occurring in the sea made visible through botanical and historical perspectives in art.

Funding provided by Japan Foundation & Nomura Foundation.
and supported by Waikiki Parc Hotel – Hospitality Sponsor for the Arts at UH Mānoa

All events are free and open to the public.

Parking fees may apply.

Image (top):
Masayuki Tamae
Community Monitoring of Coral Bleaching in Okinawa, 2017


Exhibition de(Tour) at CCA Singapore

Exhibition de(Tour) by artist James Jack

CCA Singapore

9 February 2018
07:30 PM – 09:00 PM

James Jack. Sea Birth: part two 2017 Installation view Ichihanari Art Project, Okinawa


Exploring the ways in which artistic practices reflect on social and ecological phenomena, James Jack will reference one of his curatorial projects, Play with Nature, Played by Nature (2013), an exhibition and series of conversations that looked at creative practices as a way to reinvigorate our consciousness of cycles occurring in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami off the Pacific coast of Tohoku, Japan. Jack will also share his artistic research process of Sea Birth (2017), a project that takes as a starting point the spirits in the sea off the Okinawa coast for a re-imagination of the links between fragments from a turbulent past.


For more information:

Block 43 Malan Road, Singapore 109443

“Socially Engaged Art in Asia Pacific” symposium

Socially Engaged Art in Asia Pacific

Fukuoka Asia Art Museum
Ajibi Hall 8F

26 November 2017



“Between Memories & the Museum in Fukuoka”
Nakao Tomomichi (Curator, Fukuoka Asia Art Museum)

“The Third Avant-garde: ‘social climates’ in Indonesia and Timor-Leste”
Leonor Veiga (Researcher, University of Leiden)

“From the Hawaiian Renaissance to the Molokai Window”
Healoha Johnston (Curator, Honolulu Museum of Art)

“A Sea-Centric SEA”
James Jack (Artist, Social Art Lab Kyushu University)


Sunshower: Art from Southeast Asia

For more information:

FAAM Website




「サンシャワー:東南アジアの現代美術展 1980年代から現在まで」
「Between Memories & the Museum in Fukuoka」
「The Third Avant-garde: social climates in Indonesia and Timor-Leste」

「From the Hawaiian Renaissance to the Molokai Window」

「A Sea-Centric SEA」



“Sea Birth” artist talk event

2 December 2017

James Jack (Artist, Social Art Lab Kyushu University)

Chiaki Katagiri (Curator, Okinawa Archaeological Culture Center)

Haruka Iharada (Curator, Tokyo University of the Arts)

James Jack. Sea Birth 2017, Digital video still


Taira Historic House

Ikei Island, Uruma City, Okinawa

Download talk flyer HERE

Sea Birth 海・物語・記憶

12月2日(土) 16:00時〜

ジェームズ ジャック(九州大学ソーシャルアートラボ、アーティスト)

居原田 遥(東京藝術大学、キュレーター)

片桐干亜紀 (沖縄県埋蔵文化財センター、主任学芸員)


過去の記憶とは「現在」と、どのようにつながっているのでしょうか。アーティストジェームズ・ジャックによる展示中の作品「Sea Birth 」をきっかけに、3名の参加者が、それぞれの「海・物語・記憶」について、話します。


沖縄県うるま市 伊計島 与那城伊計266番地 平本家



会期 11月18日(土)~12月3日(日) 開催時間 10:00~17:00





“In Praise of Shadows” Exhibit

In Praise of Shadows

NTU Art Gallery in Singapore
27 October – January 2018

NEW: One of the top ten shows in Asia for 2017 article Here

Review of the exhibit with beautiful photos on Artling Here

A newly commissioned work by James Jack with over twenty local dirt samples from Singapore.

James Jack

Natura Naturata: Light of Singapore


Natural pigments and gum arabic on window

Variable dimensions

Exhibition webpage here


“Sea Birth: Part One” in Nagano

Tenku: Museum in the Sky

Tomi City, Nagano

30 September – 29 October 2017


Ikoi no Ie

(closed on Mondays except holidays)


James Jack. Sea Birth: part one. 2017, Installation view. Photo by Haruka Iharada

James Jack. Sea Birth: part one. 2017, Installation view.

James Jack. Sea Birth: part one. 2017. Installation view of digital video. Photo by Haruka Iharada

Opening reception: 30 September

Organized by Museum in the Sky Executive Committee




天空の芸術祭 2017





Sea Birth会場:憩いの家
※祝日を除く月曜日は休み  ※芸術祭の特別会場(9日は祝日のため開場、翌10日閉場) ※特別会場以外の会場の閉場日は、各会場の営業日に準ずるものとします。






“Place: A Point of View” Exhibition




September 8 – October 22, 2017


Karni Dorell, Hannah Israel, Toine Horvers, James Jack, Katherine Jackson, Meridith McNeal, Alicia Wargo, Gosia Wlodarczak

The third installment in the “Focus on the Flatfiles” series, featuring rotating selections from the Kentler Flatfiles on view in our front gallery space. The works in this selection explore the personal meaning and subjectivity of place.



Kentler International Drawing Space, Red Hook, New York City