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Matariki: Many Stars... Many Stories...
June 17, 2024

Te Tauranga Toi’s latest online exhibition considers the many stars of the matariki constellation, and the many stories it holds...


matariki - many stars, many stories...


Matariki is a time that falls within the middle of the Gregorian calendar over June/July in any given year. It is marked as the Matariki star cluster becomes visible on the horizon with the rising of the sun, heralding the new year for Māori. It is a time of remembering those that have passed, celebrating the now, and looking forward to the future.

The cluster is also recognised across the globe as ‘The Seven Sisters’, ‘Pleiades’ and ‘Subaru’, however for Māori, Matariki is the shortened name form of "Ngā Mata o te Ariki Tāwhirimātea". The name takes its origin from an important Māori pūrakau about the separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku. Tāwhiritmātea, angered at his brothers for their role in the separation, fought and defeated them all until he met his match with Tūmātauenga. On his defeat, Tawhirimātea clawed his eyes out and threw them into the heavens - forever to serve as a reminder of his defiance against his brothers - thus creating the cluster that is now known as matariki.


Over recent years the cluster has become a beacon for the Māori world and cultural acknowledgement within Aotearoa, now officially marked with a public holiday. While not all iwi refer to Matariki in the same way due to their geographical vantage and the visibility of different stars such as Puanga, the concept of the celestial new year is the same. 

Matariki's national significance has increased through the efforts of Dr Rangi Mataamua, who, with substantial knowledge and efforts in this space, was instrumental in Matariki being recognised as a Public Holiday. What Matariki has achieved is a plethora of celebratory cultural events at this time which has served as a great introduction into wider Māori culture for the many that attend, and increased the opportunity for artists to gain audiences for their creative expressions.

The matariki cluster itself is made up of seven to nine stars, each relating to important Māori beliefs around their relationship with the environment:


  • Matariki - is the mother of the eight stars below and is associated with health and well being.

  • Pōhutukawa - is associated with those that have passed and are on their journey toward Te Rerenga Wairua.

  • Tupuānuku - is associated with food grown in the ground and referred to as a sign of finishing the food harvest.

  • Tupuārangi - is associated with food from the sky; the harvesting of birds and gathering of hanging berries and fruits.

  • Waitī - is associated with fresh water; rives, lakes and streams and all that dwell within.

  • Waitā - is associated with saltwater and all that dwell within. Is also used in reference to the tides.

  • Waipuna-ā-Rangi - is associated with rain; "the water that pools in the sky".

  • Ururangi - is associated with wind and is referred to to forecast the wind.

  • Hiwa-i-te-Rangi - also known as the "wishing star" and is seen in a similar light as new year resolutions.


Our Tauranga Moana artists consider their relationship with Matariki ​relating back to this special cluster of the many stars and the many stories they hold. The artists explore these stars and their stories, as a catalyst to create their personal work.

Maumahara - to recall or reminisce. The infamous Linda Munn tunes into the spiritual realm with a figurative image of a kuia. The expressive built up washes of ink create great depth and texture - adding to the ethereal nature of the work, of which is a signature of Munns. The dark tones imply a somber mood of the kuia sitting covered in her kaitaka. She looks deep in thought - perhaps deep in thought over the many acts of violence against Māori - the loss of land and the mistreatment of the people themselves over the generations. 

Kereama Taepa considers the tuna - a localized theme for this year's matariki here in Tauranga Moana. His representation of the twins Waitī and Waitā together differentiated only by value - the tuna (eel) is one that migrates to “somewhere” within the Pacific Ocean to spawn, with its offspring traveling back to its fresh water origins to lurk in the corners of our streams. This nostalgic link to ramatuna is where Taepa is reminded of his childhood - many a night being spent searching streams for the eels hidden under the banks and in the holes, with spear at the ready. This outdoor activity is a far cry from today - many youth opting to instead control the characters within their games to reach higher ranking or to fight off the zombie hordes - his work acting as a lament for what seems to be a now bygone era.


Maraea Timutimu considers a connection to the whenua itself. The wider, underlying narrative of Matariki alludes to our connection to the whenua, moana and te taiao as a whole. In recent times there have been a number of artists exploring natural pigments - with the formation of a research collective Kauae Raro, of which Timutimu is a member. In her work, Timutimu paints with pigment collected directly from her pepehā. The rhythmic patterns evoke a strong sense of movement and motion - hinting at movement and migration - a pattern familiar to Tauranga Moana with many species of wildlife that make their stop here on their travels. 


From the weaving of baskets, to the tāniko borders of cloaks, to the tukutuku panels within the whare tūpuna - the woven practices lend themselves well to geometric shapes due to their production methods. However, here Arohanoa Mathews instead paints the tohu of the pātikitiki and the poutama through layers of acrylic. These transparent layers overlap to create shapes within shapes. Rhythm is achieved across the imagery and also forward and back, the undulation adding to the work’s complexity, and thus alluding to the complex nature of weaving itself.


Justine Munn has presented some explosive works. Her expressive marks capture the raw energy of the moana - sweeping curves across the picture plane forming waves and splatters emulating the white wash of the surf. Figurative forms take on the poses of surfers as they become one with the water. This locates the work within Tauranga well - Tay Street heralded as a famous spot for all surfers across Aotearoa and abroad. 


The work of Louis Mikaere is humble in its production. The biro pen is readily available from any store - yet here presents creative works exploring the artform of kowhaiwhai combined with various manu. I can’t help but be impressed by biro artists - their commitment to line shows no fear as there is no eraser to hide any mistakes that one may make. The coupling of customary pattern with the figurative manu is interesting also - two completely different approaches yet both are referring to the natural world around us.

A triptych from Tarryn Motutere completes the show. The works together recreate the beginning of our creation story as it progresses through the stages of Te Kore, Te Pō and then into Te Ao Mārama - The Nothingness, The Darkness and then into The Light. A linear gradient across the works support the emergence of light from the darkness - achieved by contrasting the dyed and natural fibres. The geometric pattern woven into the works creates an optical illusion similar to a vortex… marking the evolutionary process of great change and activity.


The many stars of Matariki hold many stories for our artists to explore and investigate - the works within Matariki present a vast array of concepts. However, what unites them all is their connections to te taiao. Whether it be through the past time of surfing, the manu perched on the branches of kowhaiwhai, the geometric patterns referencing the flounder, to the creation of our world… nature itself and our connection to it features across the work, simply because it is our connection to te tai ao that is the most important story of them all.


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