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Dr. Serena Hashimoto out of context

by Loren Moreno, Editor


The room was smoke-filled and hectic as the banging and bellowing of the emo band overpowered all other senses. Club Pauahi was packed inside and out with punk kids who probably heard about the same “art show” as I did. They moshed and flapped to the music like a school of black carp out of water. Serena Hashimoto said it best when she invited me: “There is going to be a bunch of 15-year-olds with a lot of hair product—that’s who frequents these shows.”

While the club was inundated with punk rockers and punk posers, all badly dressed, no art show was to be found. I searched elusively for the exhibit until I heard a familiar voice call my name. Serena was sitting on a pool table amid paintings, photographs, constructions, and the like.

“Welcome to the bad-art show,” she said.

This was the first time I’d seen Serena outside of her normal element. Most people know her as Dr. Serena Hashimoto, assistant professor of communications at Hawai‘i Pacific University. Even in the smoky club, it was difficult to identify any outward differences in Serena, except that she was wearing a t-shirt and jeans. Even that was a stretch. She is probably one of few HPU professors who doesn’t dress like a professor. Tattered slacks, an old stretch tee and a pair of sneakers do the trick. Serena is punk, and even at school she won’t deviate.

Serena’s friends are quick to point out her fashion ineptitude: Serena always has the right idea about what to wear, but then there is always something that is not quite right—the clothes didn’t make it to the dry cleaners, they have lint on them, her hair needs to be brushed. But Serena shrugs it off: “That’s exactly how I feel. I’m just kind of a mess.”

Her last name can easily fool any unsuspecting person. Serena is not Japanese, or even local. She’s a Santa Cruz gal with blonde hair, black -framed glasses, and Buddhist bead bracelets.

Glancing quickly at the other pieces in the show, she points to her painting and modestly proclaims it the best piece there. On the left side of the painting is the shadow of a man sitting cross legged in the lotus position. Around the shadow are the flames of a fire burning out of control. A large bowl of water is being tipped over on the right side inundating the painting with water—an obvious attempt to save the man from his charred fate. It was like a tarot card gone horribly wrong.

The piece was emotionally heavy. Protest, as Serena called it, was painted as an anti-war piece to match the theme of the night’s show. The painting is of a Buddhist monk setting himself on fire in protest of the Vietnam War. “This isn’t something I would paint,” she says, “I just did it because they told me to.”

Serena’s paintings are more personal—she considers them documentation of her life events and feelings. “I wouldn’t sell one of my pieces. It would be like selling your diary,” she says. Protest, on the other hand, is being sold for $200.

She paints at home to “bring to life an aspect of my mind that normally lie dormant,” she says. She is a believer in “flow.” Home, as the cliché says, is where the heart is, and for this artist, it induces “flow.” She lives on the North Shore and possibly the salt-water air and sounds of crashing waves have something to do with it.

Serena’s paintings, and everything else in her life, exemplify her inner punk—cynical and carefree. She possibly inherited her punk philosophies from her parents. “They were Berkeley hippies. I don’t know—they were dropping acid,” she says. Arguably, punk is to 2005 as hippy was to 1970.

Serena was born in her living room. Her buddhist parents decided on the name Rainbow Dawn after a rainbow appeared outside the morning of her birth. The name would have fit her just fine today. “A few days later, thank god, my dad said, ‘no let’s name her Serena,’” she says. Serena Dawn Lang became her official name.

Serena’s Buddhist upbringing provides inspiration for her paintings. She studies the idea that form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Each of her paintings, in some way, depict this idea that bliss and emptiness coincide.

One of her more personal paintings is propped inside her office. Two figures, in similar style to those in Protest, are depicted. One lies flat on the ground, the other stands over him with a knife drawn, ready to finish the deed. She would only say the painting is derived from the idea that Buddhists have both a wrathful and serene aspect. And that the wrathful aspect cuts away obstacles that lie ahead. When pressed further, Serena would only say: “It’s personal.” There is something deeply personal and possibly secretive about her—she’s a locked box filled with unimaginable wonders.

Serena says she’s no different than the punk kids who frequent her shows. Growing up in Santa Cruz was difficult on her, mainly because she was teased by all the tanned beach bums for being pale. In remedy of the problem, she decided to dye her hair black, become a punk rocker, and “celebrate my paleness.” She said she began to “cultivate” a cynical attitude and express herself through her painting. She even received a bachelor’s degree in art history, but still claims to know nothing about art.

Back at the show, Serena comments on the lesbians making out in the corner. “I once tried to show at a lesbian art show,” she says, “They turned me down. I guess they could tell I wasn’t a lesbian.”

A girl comes over to the pool table and begins to cut the strings holding up the painting. It was only 10:30 p.m. Had the painting been sold? No. With at least a half an hour left in the show, Serena says, “I’m going home. I only came to retrieve my painting.”



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