During the week of Pow Wow Hawaii, the festival's visiting artists and media live in an artistic Shangri-La called the Utopium Estate. The 50-acre property, nestled on Oahu's North Shore directly next to the Pupukea-Paumalu Forest Reserve, is a private and serene sanctuary where "utopian thinking" is encouraged and creativity can flourish.
Utopium Estate is the hippie movement's fantasy come to fruition, featuring a two-bedroom cottage named "The Dacha," a decommissioned-boat-turned-studio called "The Brainstorm" and the Mobius Art Villa.
The jewel of the estate is the Mobius Art Villa -- a six-suite, six-and-a-half bathroom "live-in sculpture" with a full kitchen -- where the invitees stay. The living space, inspired by the Möbius strip, is an art piece in itself, boasting three different colors of tile on the roof. It was intentionally painted an organic red so that the house appears to be growing from the oxidized soil -- which also alleviates the necessity of constantly washing off dirt from the structure. The Mobius Art Villa was also designed to foster creativity and harmony, says Nodie Namba-Hadar, who owns the property with her husband, Sam Hadar. (They are the parents of Pow Wow Hawaii co-lead director Kamea Hadar.)
"Mobius Art Villa is our metaphor for how we're all connected and interdependent, traveling through time and space in this new-age way," Namba-Hadar explains. "Aside from that, we wanted to create Utopium as a safe space where people could come together [to] relax, feel collaborative [and] creative, work together and just have a fun time."
Shangri-La(rt): Inside Pow Wow Hawaii's Utopium Estate
The expansive "front" of the Mobius Art Villa, inspired by the Möbius ring. The villa is the cornerstone of the Utopium Estate.
Eight years ago the property was a "forest full of garbage," says Sam Hadar. All of the facilities and infrastructure around the Utopium Estate were designed and built by Sam, his family and a talented group of craftsmen. They have a full workshop on the property and a backhoe, which Kamea claims is his dad's favorite vehicle.
"The international artists and media seem to be really enjoying themselves because the environment here is beautiful, and then they love the North Shore," says Sam of Utopium Estate. "From here they go into town, and they love coming back here at night and relaxing with the stars overhead, talking, chilling ... they also have all of the modern facilities, so it's not like they're roughing it."
Painting all day under the hot Hawaiian sun in the middle of Honolulu is a grind. Spraying murals for five straight days in Hawaii's largest city is physically taxing on the Pow Wow Hawaii artists. The endeavor to "aloha the arts" is a tough gig, but the Utopium Estate is their rural sanctuary from the demanding concrete jungle, explains Australian graffiti artist Meggs.
"It's a beautiful spot, and where the house is, it's surrounded by jungle, and it's nice and relaxing," says Meggs. "Each day you're in the city, painting a wall, but every morning you wake up and you have nice, peaceful surroundings, open land and nature, and I think that helps mentally cleanse."
This is the third year Meggs has traveled from Down Under to participate in Pow Wow Hawaii. The 34-year-old from Melbourne is stoked on the camaraderie of sharing the Mobius Art Villa for a week, saying he sees the experience as an opportunity to connect with other artists with whose work he may be familiar, but whom he may never have had a chance to meet in person.
The connections made at the house directly affect the Pow Wow Hawaii murals, says Meggs. Last year he collaborated with four other artists with whom he'd never previously worked to create one of the largest and coolest murals from Pow Wow Hawaii 2012.
"The house is such an amazing space, and I think it really helps you get to know each other ... I think that helps with the bonding and the family element of Pow Wow," states Meggs. "I guess it helps informs the murals. I mean, a lot of the murals that are happening in Pow Wow are [created by] a group of artists that would probably never have worked together under any other circumstance, but they get along a bit socially and then, when the walls are allocated, it's like, 'Oh, hey, let's jam,' and in that respect it's a big part of how it all works."
Local graffiti artist Chris Samson, aka CKaweeks, who is a lifeguard, surfer and triathlete, believes that the North Shore of Oahu is the perfect place to house the Pow Wow creatives. The 30-year-old from Waipahu reminds the artists that they should take advantage of the current string of west/northwest swells to see the Banzai Pipeline, which is arguably the world's most famous and deadly wave. Seeing the Seven Mile Miracle in all its glory is a fortuitous experience for any and all visitors, he says.
"Kaka'ako is more city life, especially if you're out here painting all day. You're in an urban setting," CKaweekes says. "For them to experience a beautiful place like the North Shore is awesome! I tell all visiting friends that the North Shore is one of the most beautiful places Oahu has to offer as far beaches, the chill country vibe and the best waves in the world."