An artist and native of St. Croix, Mark “Feijão” Milligan II recently completed his largest definitive piece of work, but you won’t find it in a local museum. Milligan’s mural, measuring 2700 square feet, is located in Honolulu, Hawaii’s epicenter for local culture, food, shopping and innovative events, and his work spans half the size of a tennis field.
The mural project was part of the 10th Annual Pow Wow Festival, which featured over 90 artists from all over the world this February. Milligan created his mural to help celebrate and honor the native people of Hawaii and the work marks the artist’s first attempt at painting Hawaiian people after living on O’ahu for 15 years.
Milligan and his wife moved to Hawaii in 2005, and his approach to art has always centered on the African diaspora as a Caribbean-born man and artist. While on the phone, Milligan graciously shared his experience as a Crucian living abroad.
“St. Croix is a great place to grow up. We have black people in every position in the community, and that allowed me to feel I could grow up to be anything,” Milligan recalled. In 2018, the artist was featured in a gallery on St. Croix titled Black Saints at the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts, St. Croix, USVI. “I tend to focus exclusively on the African diaspora. I want to correct the way people see our culture or how the exterior world presents our culture in the wrong way.”
Milligan currently works as a digital media specialist at The Kamehameha Schools. “The Kamehameha Schools work towards the education of native Hawaiians in perpetuity,” Milligan noted. “I was actually able to bring in two students from the organization, and they assisted in the piece for two days. I wanted to provide the same opportunity that Paul Youngblood gave me.”
The artist also enlisted the advice of a local “Kumu” or teacher to make sure his mural was culturally sound. The teacher then “assisted in making the adjustments to the work so that it spoke to the native Hawaiian experience,” said Milligan. The artist describes his work by giving a rundown of his process and reasoning behind the mural.
“I wanted to exhibit the divine feminine and divine masculine from the perspective of natives. The feminine is posed with an old sun on the side of her face where she would normally wear a flower to say that she is married. The person who I used for the portrait is native Hawaiian,” he explained. “The three torch flowers represent earth energy and new beginnings but also represent her children as well. Rather than normally placing the feminine with the moon, I placed the masculine with the moon in that more reflective quiet and protective energy. The Pleiades is a constellation that is used to navigate.
There has actually been a resurgence in young people becoming interested in the Hokule’a, Hawaii’s voyaging canoes. Some years ago, one set sail and tracked the globe, even stopping in St. Croix. Lastly, the Iwa bird which translates to “thief,” is a bit mischievous and is recognized for its ability to move around and navigate, also signifying the energy of gathering together.”
The mural itself took five days for Milligan to complete, working 14 to 16 hours each day. “I want natives to walk by and be able to see themselves in the art,” Milligan says. “I gave them the same voice as I would for the African Diaspora, I want them to see a representation of themselves.“