Artist considers legal action against Hawaii Tourism Authority

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Sep 09 2013 05:52:00 PM HST

Hans Ladislaus weighing options after mural covered in Hawaii.

HONOLULU -

This commissioned wall mural that is causing quite a stir, is federally protected.

The artist took to the Internet this weekend to speak his mind about a move to hide it from view.

"I am extremely concerned that someone can throw tarps over art that has been hanging for more than 16 years," said Hans Ladislaus.

His abstract mural entitled "Forgotten Inheritance" depicts bones in the sand that a recognized cultural descendant of the area found "offensive."

Ladislaus told KITV last week he was appalled no one bothered to contact him before the artwork was draped in black.

"The mural was never meant to be offensive. It underwent scrutiny by many government communities including native Hawaiians," Ladislaus said.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority intends to have it removed and replaced by art by  a native Hawaiian.

But in trying to be the sensitive to the host culture of the islands, the HTA may run afoul of federal law.

A University of Hawaii law professor told KITV, under the Visual Artist Act, Ladislaus may have a case.

"Their work is protected from mutilation and from being covered up, as is done in this case," said University of Hawaii law processor Danielle Conway.

Conway calls it a form of censure, and is chilling to an artist's creativity.

And she said is another reason why it's really important to have written agreements to understand the context.

The art controversy prompted one viewer to ask if it's not OK to depict iwi at the convention center, what makes it OK for a hanging at the Hawaiian Studies building at UH Manoa.

This art piece, by a native Hawaiian, depicts the desecration of sacred kaai -- bones of Hawaiian chiefs that were taken from burial site and sold to a museum.

"I have seen it and it’s not as offensive as this one is," said Paulette Kaleikini, who complained about Ladislaus' work.

"The question will come up are there places and spaces and artists who have the  authority to display these kinds of works and the short answer is, absolutely yes," said Conway.

"There is a certain reverence and sacredness to certain things and anyone who is going to cross over the native realm is going to have to deal with our arguments about that.  They cannot assume a western value like ‘the artist is free to express whatever he wants.’ That doesn’t work for us and it will never work for us," said UH Hawaiian Studies professor Jon Osorio.

It remains to be seen how this dispute will play out. But  Conway suggests now would be the time to try and amend the Visual Artists Act to recognize indigenous traditional intellectual property law as a way to clarify cases like this going forward.

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