Kings of Paradise: This Is How POW! WOW! Hawaii Is Saving Street Art

This weeklong street art festival in Hawaii is changing the medium as we know it.

Not Available Lead
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Not Available Lead

Each winter, street artists around the world fly to Hawaii to cover the island of Oahu in multicolored murals. The POW! WOW! Hawaii street art festival, which takes place annually in February, brings talent from across the globe to the Kaka’ako district of Honolulu. This year, over 100 living legends and festival first-timers converged on the neighborhood brandishing buckets of paint, thick markers, and aerosol cans.

Unlike other festivals around the world, like Coachella, SXSW, and Art Basel, POW! WOW! isn’t about the spectacle of a wild party. Instead, it’s about a community that forms for a week on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and lasts for years on a global scale.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a party atmosphere at POW! WOW!, but the joie de vivre is basically a side effect of bringing so many creative personalities together. Over the course of the festival, artists and press sleep in giant houses on the North Shore, trekking over an hour to Kaka’ako every day in packed U-Haul vans. They commute past crushing waves, fields of pineapples owned by the Dole Plantation, and steep mountains straight out of Jurassic Park. The drive leaves plenty of time for POW! WOW! participants to get to know each other. Over breakfast, Hueman, an artist from L.A. who’​s experiencing her first street art festival, says, “It almost feels like summer camp.”

Philadelphia-based artist NoseGo, another POW! WOW! first-timer, says, “It’s like a tribe of people that live in different parts of the world, and once they’re here, they all meet up to celebrate what they love. It’s awesome.” He doesn’t have many friends in his hometown and finds motivation in the international community that grows out of street art. “That’s what drives me,” he says while sipping beers at a local brewery.

Latest in Style