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In his office, Marques Marzan, a tall, slender man in an island-design shirt, wears his own carved-ivory pendant with plaited suspension cord around his neck. He says thoughtfully, “I hope to be a bridge between Hawaii’s past and present, to honor the cultural traditions of those before us and blend them with the innovations of today.” He reflects on his dual career as fiber artist and as a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner and resource specialist at Honolulu’s Bishop Museum, adding that he wants “to show respect for what I know and to share that with dignity.”
Born on the island of Oahu and intrigued by the weavings of his great-grandmother, Marzan learned Hawaiian plaiting techniques as a teenager. Earning a BFA in fiber at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and studying under many of Hawaii’s master weavers, he adopted Hawaiian fibers and practices as the basis for his work. His freestanding, suspended and relief sculptures, as well as his wearables, created largely from indigenous plants or those introduced by early Polynesian settlers typically are abstract in form and have geometric surface pattern.
One of the few accomplished makers of utilitarian forms—large mats, baskets, hats and fans—Marzan collects and processes much of his own fiber. In his plaiting, look for lauhala, the long leaves of a tree also known as pandanus. Hibiscus, coconut and ie ie, an endemic aerial root, provide the basis for much of his braiding, netting, twining and spinning.
Marzan’s work touches on Hawaiian—and often universal—themes that find a background today in the Hawaiian Renaissance, a revival beginning in the 1960s of values, language, dance, song, craft, agriculture and navigation. Through his manipulation of shape, choice of fiber, technique and pattern, and layering of materials, Marzan addresses both folklore and concepts such as origin or sacrifice. In his Hanau ia, a bold three-dimensional wall relief of plaited matting, the piko (the navel, the point of origin) is a reference in the geometric patterning. The piko can also appear as descending spiral shapes or form the center construction of a lauhala hat. Marzan’s wearable art includes a dynamically patterned, layered and gathered bustlelike form woven out of lauhala for a woman and a comparable piece for men reminiscent of traditional feather cloaks.
Marzan is now applying layers of gut, some inscribed with words from traditional chants, over fiber structures that subtly refer to Hawaiian implements. Anchored refers to the naau (bowels) and the Hawaiian belief that one’s heart and mind reside in the gut.
Equally accomplished in hula, song and protocol, Marzan advises Bishop Museum leadership on how to incorporate Hawaiian traditions into a non-Hawaiian museum setting. In August, he initiated the opening ceremonies of the museum’s newly renovated Hawaiian Hall with a traditional chant. He is active as a panelist, speaker and demonstrator at fiber gatherings at home and abroad. Marzan’s ethnic background—a quarter Hawaiian, a quarter Japanese and half Filipino—typifies the cultural melting pot of Hawaii, which in 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of statehood.
Jennifer Saville is the former curator of Western art at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.