Page 17 - MIdWeek - Feb 24, 2021
P. 17

 Copper Artist Follows A Path of Peace
something back to the island and the people because grat- itude is so important in our lives,” Sooriya says about why he decided to open the nonprofit. “We are a part of nature, so we have to take care of Mother Earth. When we take care of the soil, we cultivate ourselves. I want to share this message of farming, sharing, artwork and healing. I want to share it with the children and all walks of life.
dear friend of Sooriya’s and a founder of Waiʻanae Coast Comprehensive Health Cen- ter, approached him with a question.
the way it all started — with the community. I wanted to do it with the children, peo- ple from all walks of life, coming together in harmony to create something.”
“One day, she asked me, ʻSooriya, they’ re going to
In the fall of 2018, thou-
        “Before the virus, chil- dren would come and they would plant trees and work on the farm,” he adds. “And, because there aren’t too many art programs in school, I started an artist village here, too. There are no expectations, it’s from the heart. This is a place for healing, feeding and shar- ing.”
build a building in Nānākuli ... it’s a community center for all the people. Are you going to do some artwork there?’ ” remembers Soori- ya, who has been WCCHC’s resident artist since 2005. “I said, ‘Mama, I would love to do something like that for you.’
Westside students (above left) visited Sooriya’s Wai‘anae nonprofit as part of Koholā Ola Peace Project, an artistic venture that led to the creation of a 45-foot humpback whale and her 32-foot calf (above).
message for years to come. Sooriya also teases that a documentary titled Koholā Ola is in the works. Created by Alexander Bocchieri and Matthew Nagato of Lumos Media, the film captures the heart and grit behind the proj- ect. Additionally, two books featuring children’s artwork and photographs will be re- leased and the project is cur- rently seeking donations for
   sands of hands spanning generations, religions and ethnicities pounded pieces of copper that eventually transformed into a 45-foot humpback whale and her 32-foot calf. While there, Sooriya taught visitors — who ranged from area stu- dents to community leaders — about the importance of
Thousands of hands pounded the copper of life-sized whale sculptures, including those of Sooriya’s mother Annapoorani (sitting) and his brother Jothykumar (standing next to her).
muse inhabits.
“Without the people, with-
a dream of his before he was even born,” states Kamaki Kanahele, director of WC- CHC’s Traditional Hawai- ian Healing Center and son of Cope. “It’s going to be a symbol for world peace from Hawaiʻi to all the world, and in these very different times, it’s even more important.”
 Serving as the perfect em- bodiment of his message is the Koholā Ola Peace Proj- ect, a mission that began
“In the meantime, Aunty
out the community, I cannot do it,” he says. “When they come together to pound, they did it from their heart. There is no separation when creat- ing something,” he says.
Made possible with help from Cliff and Renée Til- lotson, the project contin- ued at their Kapolei-based workspace. Once welded, the whales were transported to Agnes Kalanihoʻokahā Community Learning Cen- ter at The Nānākuli Village Center.
“Last week, I was in Longs Drugs here in Waiʻanae and I was in the front of the line and a man said, ʻI know you! Thank you so much. Let me pay for it,’” says Sooriya. “I told him, ‘I have the mon- ey, brother, thank you,’ but he said, ‘No, please let me pay for it.’ That is love. That is heart. It’s not about the money, but the mana. What a great blessing it is to have done this for the people.”
As for Sooryia’s next en-
    More of Sooriya’s work can be seen across the park- ing lot. A pod of copper dol- phins, none of which look the same, playfully leap on the side of a nearby build- ing. Only recently installed, Sooriya’s friends gaze in wonderment, joking that he “never sleeps.”
deavor, he’ ll soon be on his way back to Sri Lanka. There, he’ll construct a model village to immortalize traditional life- styles and values for future generations to witness.
  Although the whales have found their forever home, Koholā Ola Peace Project is far from over. The children who became a part of the legacy when their wooden mallets met the copper plates will grow up to share the
“I want to do this for my people,” he says. “I was born there and I feel as though it’s my duty.
  nearly 10 years ago when Dr. Agnes “Aunty Aggie” Kalanihoʻokahā Cope, a
Aggie passed away. I said, ‘word is word. I will do it’ — and I did. I finished it. That’s
taking care of the environ- ment, especially the ocean, a place where the project’s
“This is a project that has been a dream of my broth- er Sooriya for many, many, many years. I think this was
“In the Bible, there is a verse that says if you can save one soul, you can save the world. I believe this. When we come together, we can bring this aloha to the world and make it a better place.”

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