With his warm smile, a sparkle in his eyes and friendly personality, Saumolia Puapuaga breathes new life into the Hawai’i State Art Museum’s former gift shop space as HiSAM’s first artist-in-residence for Passion On Display. Program organizers welcome the public to drop in and talk with the artists and to see works in progress. Puapuaga, a painter, earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from UH Mānoa in 2012. He says he looks forward to welcoming people to his series of paintings titled “Dear Saumolia,” which are like personal letters to the artist’s past and current selves. With oil paintings that push the chroma saturation to 11, Puapuaga sees the world filled with vivid colors and endless possibilities. “This collection invites visitors into a space of my heart and soul to visually capture the heartaches, triumphs and feelings of accepting myself as a queer artist,” he says. “For so long I hid my authentic self because of fear. I am grateful for this opportunity to be on full view and unabashedly me.” We sat down with the artist to talk about what inspires him and what he’ll be doing during his residency.
HONOLULU Magazine: What inspired you to do the “Dear Saumolia” series?
Saumolia Puapuaga: “Dear Saumolia” is my desire and journey for self-acceptance and acknowledgment as a queer indigenous artist. This series is rooted from a deep place within me and has helped to celebrate my true authentic self. This collection began with me holding a mirror in front of me and I wasn’t sure what I was seeing; it was only through reflection of my past that I was able to create this series.
HM: How does your Samoan heritage influence your artwork?
SP: My Samoan heritage is present in most of my work. I grew up appreciating the beautiful designs and bright colors of my heritage and found this to be an important cultural element that references who I am and allows me to reconnect with my Samoan roots and ancestors in modern day America.
HM: A lot of people unfortunately stop making art after they leave school. What are some things that you have done in order to keep making art and have a sustainable art practice?
SP: Paint unceasingly! What helped me was the support around me—from family/friends to my place of employment; these people and spaces allowed me to imagine what life as an artist could be like. I always had a desire to display my work in public spaces, which has also kept me active with local art communities.
SEE ALSO: Hawai’i State Art Museum’s Newest Exhibit Deals with the Theme of “Containment”
HM: In the schedule for your artist-in-residency it says you’ll be in the space six hours a day, six days a week. What exactly will you be doing?
SP: I’ll be painting the town pink! To be able to do what I love in a museum is a very humbling experience and I can’t wait to continue working on current commission pieces and future projects as well as inviting other artists to come in and talk a story in such an inspiring place.
HM: What does Passion On Display mean to you?
SP: POD is a physical space that allows me to share my art with the community in new, exciting and vulnerable ways.
HM: Anything else you would like to share?
SP: I hope that my journey here can inspire other artists who may be struggling with their identity and self-acceptance to remain motivated and declare their own identity as worthy and special.
Visit Puapuaga at HiSAM now through Dec. 4, 250 S. Hotel St., open Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm, closed Nov. 6 and Nov. 25–28, free admission, hisam.hawaii.gov, @Hawaiiistateartmuseum, @artbysaumolia
Lisa Shiroma is a correspondent for HiSAM and is an artist and art educator. Lisa is the former owner of the HiSAM Museum Gallery Shop, which she ran with partners Aly Ishikuni-Sasaki and Travis Sasaki from Mori by Art + Flea from 2017 to June 2020.