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Get a Look at ‘Unreal’ Hawaii at the Bishop Museum

Get a Look at ‘Unreal’ Hawaii at the Bishop Museum

What comes to mind when you think about Hawaii?

In an ideal world, Hawaii’s rich culture, history, customs, and traditions would rush to the forefront. But if all you can conjure up are images of palm trees, luaus, and surfers, don’t worry – for a long time, that’s how Hawaii was presented.

Such is the suggestion behind Unreal: Hawaii in Popular Imagination, an exhibit at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. It’s a collection of marketing material and commercial art of the past – some issued by Hawaii tourism organizations and others by independent promoters, such as airlines and hotels – that is believed to have created a false or “unreal” perception of Hawaii to the outside world.

The exhibit, which is on display until January 27th, contrasts the “unreal depictions [of Hawaii] in commercial art and the contemporary reality of Hawaii” that has resulted in a false façade of “stereotypical and culturally misappropriated depictions.”

“[These images have] enticed people to visit Hawaii and to consume products infused with the imagined glamour and exotic allure of the islands,” explains the exhibit’s creators. “The global success of these advertising efforts lured people into a false familiarity. Hula dancers and surfers, palm trees and glowing sunsets—these are the popular depictions of the supposedly harmless daydreams of paradise.”

Today, Hawaii finds itself in the midst of a decades-long quest to reinfuse its true culture back to the forefront. Hotels and tour operators now employ cultural ambassadors to help with programming, and there has been a heightened interest in cultural tourism.

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