Exported: Eirik Johnson at Donkey Mill Art Center, Hawaii

Text and Photos by Eirik Johnson

Mauna Kea

This past February, I traveled to Holualoa, a small town in the coffee producing hills of the Big Island of Hawaii. I had been invited to participate as artist in residence at the Donkey Mill Art Center, a community arts space housed in an old farming cooperative. I arrived with broad stroke ideas for my residency, but my intention was to remain open and receptive to the place and those I met.

That notion of place was a recurring and connecting concept during my stay. Over meals and conversations with kupunas, elders from the community, I learned about the history of Holualoa; of families whose relatives had left impoverished Japan in the late 19 th Century under labor contract to work in the island’s sugar cane mills and later homestead small coffee farms in the volcanic hills of the region. I learned of the ghosts who wander subterranean lava tubes, bamboo forests and mountain ridges.

That connection with Holualoa’s past was given further context while working with a group of local teens with whom I collaborated on a series of photographic and video-based portraits. We looked at the history of portraiture in art, brainstormed visual memories, and worked together to compose and create works that connected back to my conversations with the kupunas.

Much of my residency was simply spent wandering and exploring, both in and around Holualoa, but also further afield. I watched the sunset from the Mauna Kea volcano, explored old movie theaters in Honokaa and Hawi, and discovered beach crab holes amidst tiny bits of plastic washed up from the Pacific Ocean Gyre.

During my residency, I stayed as a guest of Hiroki and Setsuko Morninoue. Both renowned artists, the Morinoues, together with their daughter Maki and her husband Geoff, were generous in aloha spirit, knowledge, and participation. Their eldest daughter Miho Morinoue helped facilitate my entire residency at the Donkey Mill and was pivotal in connecting me with the entire community.

Now, as I begin the work of looking back through photographs, editing video, and listening to audio files, I daydream of Holualoa and the smell of coffee blossoms.


Film Still of Hiroki at the Coffee Farm

Althea with Rotten Fruit

Brunch with Kupunas

Coffee Blossoms

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