Staged Island Narratives: A Comparative Analysis of Three Non-Native Artists Working in 1930s Hawai'i
Contemporary Hawai’i is a renowned tourist destination for millions of visitors a year. Prior to the arrival of Europeans in 1778, missionary intervention in 1820, and American occupation in 1893, the islands had its own monarchy and unique cultural traditions. Since the interference of these groups, for over two centuries many characteristics of native Hawaiian culture and native Hawaiian people have been suppressed or changed to produce the narrative of contemporary Hawai’i familiar in the West today. These staged narratives of the islands and its native people have been consistently reinforced in the art created by non-native artists visiting or commissioned on the islands. Most of, if not all, of the artists contributing to the period of Hawaiian modernism received European academic artistic training. This thesis analyzes the work of three artists working in pre-World War II Hawai’i, Eugene Francis Savage, Robert Lee Eskridge, and Madge Tennent, and how their interpretations of Hawai’i fed into the staged island narratives that have been present on the islands since its colonization. The question posed by my study is not so much which artist best translated or represented Hawai’i but what mixture of historical forces led to the hybrid representations of modern Hawai’i, that they did end up producing.