James Jack


. . . the people who experience the artwork, I want them to bring that into their own corners of the world and find their own spirit and connection to their land, and take pride in what they do.
— JJ

Throughout James Jack’s practice, dirt plays a central and abiding role. Recognizing dirt as the material earth upon which people both rely and the land with which they identify, Jack works with dirt as a conceptual and physical medium to manifest connections that people have to place. The drawings are personal documents of his learning process: a means to connect with community members and also a way to create “windows” through which specific places and cultural values and practices can be respectfully shared with those both within and outside of the particular community.  As someone not native to Hawaii, Jack spent extensive time listening and learning from community members of Molokai, participating in cultural practices and finding means to collaborate with them and create new forms of aesthetic and even spiritual expression of one’s kinship with place. Such a practice shares some similarity to methods of cultural anthropologists studying  different cultures through “deep hanging out.” However, for Jack, the work is part of a deeply personal and intimate research practice rooted in the ways that place, people, and natural materials interpenetrate each other. — AY

Making Kin Categories

Molokai Window

2018, Natural pigments (Molokai dirt) and gum arabic on wood panel and paper

Photos by Shuzo Uemoto

“Activism is born in a local context, yet it has implications for raising consciousness around the world.”
— Malia Akutagawa, 2016.12.13

“Dirt is not dirty.”
— Uncle Walter Ritte, 2017.8.4

“We do not ultimately achieve health in perfection. It is an endless process of healing oneself and healing the ‘āina (land). That is what we need to teach the next generation.”
— Uncle Bobby Alcain, 2017.8.4

“Up until the 1980s conservation was (misunderstood as) a dirty word, but Molokai has now become well known for its conservation efforts.”
— Richard A. Cooke, III, 2017.7.22

Aloha ‘Āina Spiral

2018, vinyl. By Walter Ritte, Healoha Johnston & James Jack

Aloha āina, meaning “love of land and love of country,” is a philosophy that ties Hawaiian people to the‘āina (land) of Hawai‘i and emphasizes interconnectivity between people and the universe. The people of Molokai have redefined discourses of sustainability to situate it more firmly within an aloha ‘āina framework. In many cases, their responsibility to the land is at odds with military activities and/or commercially driven projects. Through acts of aloha āina , Molokai leaders have negotiated complicated scenarios with the U.S. Navy and large-scale land developers with tremendous success. This diagram, created in dialogue with Uncle Walter Ritte, marks some of the critical actions led by Molokai‘i community members in contribution to the island’s sustainable life ways. The open circles represent the undocumented yet perceptible contributions to aloha ‘āina movements making this an in-progress chronicle of recent history tied to Molokai’s resilience. You’ll notice across this exhibition, “Molokai” is spelled with and without the okina in acknowledgement of the dual spelling and pronunciation of the island name. — Healoha Johnston 

Molokai Window - James Jack at Honolulu Museum of Art


 by  Matt Yamashita, Quazifilms

Molokai Window is a meditation on the ecological and social well being achieved through knowledge systems that support life-ways in tune with patterns of nature. Painted with dirt from the east side of Molokai, this artwork is the result of a multi-year process between the artist, James Jack, and community members of Molokai as they shared ideas about the relationship between people and land. The place from which to borrow dirt came after much discussion with community partners. The decision was made to borrow dirt from an area of the east side that once served as an economic epicenter for the island and is now a hub of activity for initiatives around sustainability. An indication of both historic abundance and of new beginnings, the dirt painted here signals potential in Molokai’s deep commitment to maintaining a reciprocal relationship with the Earth’s elements. — Healoha Johnston

About James Jack

James Jack is an American Asian artist who engages layered histories tied to place concentrated on instances of positive change. He has created community-based works for the Honolulu Museum of Art, Setouchi International Art Festival, Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Busan Biennale Sea Art Festival, Institute of Contemporary Art Singapore, and the Echigo-Tsumari Triennial. His writings have been published by Shima, Antennae, CCA Singapore, Tokyo Arts Council, Blum & Poe Gallery, Satoshi Koyama Gallery, Japan Times and ArtAsiaPacific. Together with artists Yoshitaka Nanjo and Shotaro Yoshino, he formed the Dirt Collective in 2014 whose exhibits include Niigata Water and Land Art Festival, SYP Art Space Tokyo, Ichihara Art x Mix and are currently on view at the Oku Noto Triennale. After ten years based in Tokyo, Jack was an artist fellow at Social Art Lab in Fukuoka and is now based next to the mouth of the Pandan River in Penjuru, Singapore.


Kindred Artists