Ngā Tuāhine Tokowhitu o Matariki, the Seven Sisters of Matariki, is a collaborative project involving Soldiers Rd artists and Auckland Libraries. Curated by Rachelle Forbes, it explores themes of kaitiakitanga, rangatiratanga, whakapapa and mana wāhine.
Each Māori librarian in the exhibition represents a star of the Matariki constellation. Matariki, also known as the Pleiades and the Seven Sisters, consists of more than 500 stars, but only seven are visible to the naked eye. The Matariki portraits similarly represent a greater collective, including those who remain unseen.
As Māori, we find ourselves in history, and it is through ngā taonga tuku iho (the gifts handed down from our ancestors) that we recreate, recontextualise and rediscover who we are. Matariki is a time to honour our traditions, reconnect with our ancestors to keep their stories alive, and to tell our own.
Waiata - Hora Ngā WhetūTranscipt of Waiata, in Māori
Hora ngā whetū i te maraenui ātea
Tītiti tātai ki te uma o Ranginui
Mai te kete ā te haruru
Ko te whānau mārama
Hora ngā whetū i te mareinui ātea
Tītiti tātai ki te uma o Ranginui
Mai te kete ā te haruru
Reference: Tama Waipara (Rongowhakaata) ‘Hora Ngā Whetū’, from the album He Rangi Paihuarere (A Tribute To The Late Dr Hirini Melbourne).
I feel very privileged to have a portrait taken in this style as I have portraits of my great grandmothers and great aunts dressed in similar Victorian attire with moko kauae (chin tattoo). I could see the potential for Māori to connect with libraries by seeing the Seven Sisters exhibition highlighting wāhine in libraries.
Being able to promote library services to Māori communities and whānau is one of the highlights of my mahi. Local kaumātua and kuia attended a beginner computer class at Central Library in 2012. They now attend learning sessions at their local libraries and are regular users of digital technology. They even Facebook each other now! This is how libraries can connect whānau to information that is relevant for them.
It was quite overwhelming once we got into costume, and seeing each other transform in a matter of minutes. It makes me proud to have my image up alongside some powerful-looking wāhine. I love that we all work in libraries, and these images are almost the antithesis of how librarians are usually portrayed. I love that I can share this with my two daughters, and they can see eight wāhine Māori as positive role models for them. I hope that my image will become a taonga for my girls to share with their children in the future.
As I feel I am still learning about my Māoritanga (as someone brought up without te Reo) working in Auckland Libraries offers me opportunities to gain a stronger understanding of what it means to be Māori in Auckland. I love that my job is based on the idea of ‘Ako ki te Ako’. I work in a place where a sharing of knowledge is happening all the time. My mahi allows me to help people find just about anything out, and I am face to face with them. I love that at the same time, it is the community I work within that educates me.
The women from Soldiers Rd are really sensitive and incredibly intuitive about where every person is at with their own relationship to their background. What they do can accommodate the full Māori experience but also accommodate the more colonial experience, which my own family background comes out of. I felt the mix of clothing I wore was very appropriate for me.
One of the nice things about being a part of Auckland Libraries has been meeting the Māori staff. They have been really encouraging about a side of my ancestry, which up until now I have never really fully acknowledged. One of my worries about being a part of the exhibition that I wasn’t Māori enough, and that I would be standing alongside women who speak te Reo and that is at the absolute core of who they are, but it wasn’t like that. I feel as if a door has been opened for me to walk through and now I can start knitting my genealogical connections together again.
Ko Ngati Paoa, Ngāti Whanaunga me Ngāpuhi ōku iwi. I am fortunate to be of the mana whenua of Tāmaki Makaurau and am grateful to live and work in a region of such great diversity that my tūpuna (ancestors) have called home for many generations. Being in this exhibition was an opportunity to honour my tūpuna wāhine (female ancestors), initiate discussion around wāhine and their important role in Te Ao Māori, and promote libraries to Māori customers – including those who may be considering librarianship as a career pathway.
There’s simply nothing like seeing customers connect with something they’ve been searching to find - especially whakapapa (family history and genealogical ties). The information libraries contain, once shared, has the power to transform lives and that is something that really excites me and is a driving force in my work.
On a very personal level, this image captures a very happy and proud point in my life where everything my tūpuna have invested in me has blossomed, everything I’ve gone through has made sense, and the place where I am right now is perfect. The tartan, the gun, the korowai, the hairstyle are all significant for me, and it’s by chance that they were plucked out as being part of my ensemble. The knowledge that I am representing so many significant things humbles me.
For me, Māori responsiveness is about acknowledging and showing respect to a culture and people who are intrinsic to this country. Having been brought up by two generations of whānau who experienced quite the opposite and fought to retain our identity, I have a great sense of responsibility to continue living and sharing our culture in as many ways as I can.
I was adopted at birth by an Irish father and English mother, so I had a very multicultural upbringing. My parents have always been very supportive of my culture and have encouraged me to embrace my ancestry. I never identified myself as Māori until I settled back in New Zealand after living overseas most of my life. I am still trying to find out more about my whakapapa and taking part in this exhibition has encouraged me to look deeper for the answers.
The best thing about my job is that I get to work with our community. I have the opportunity to take my passion for libraries and information to children and their families through programmes that introduce them to the library space and having fun. It is important to me to show the community that libraries are not just about books but are places where you can feel a sense of belonging.
He wa hira hei whakanui i ngā wāhine Māori e mahi ana kei roto i te rohe of Tāmaki Makaurau, puta noa i a Aotearoa hoki. Mauri ora ki a rātou katoa! My star is Matariki. A few years ago my son, who was a student at Te Kura Māori o Manurewa at the time, taught me the names of the Matariki constellation by this clapping chant: E whitu nga whetu o Matariki, Waiti, Waita, Ururangi, Tupu-ā-nuku, Tupu-ā-rangi, Waipuna-ā-rangi, e whitu ngā whetū o Matariki.
I work in a community that has a high percentage of Māori so we are looking at ways to deliver services to the Māori community that meet their needs and those of Auckland Council. My role is to support, lead and collaborate with colleagues and staff to successfully deliver Māori initiatives in the Manurewa community and in the South.
I believe our Māori people in Libraries are among our greatest treasures. Not only are they the faces of our services and the kaitiaki of our collections, each individual is a living, breathing resource in their own right. He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! (What is the most important thing in this world? It is people, it is people, it is people).
My background is in research, fine arts and arts management so I really enjoy the creative component of curation. The opportunity to collaborate with others not only connects people, it connects wairua - and that allows things to take on a force of their own.
About the exhibition
The ‘colonial gaze’ is a term used to describe the way an indigenous people are depicted through art, photography and film. Historically in Aotearoa, and similarly across other islands of the Pacific, artists from outside of these cultures captured and immortalised images and ideas about the indigenous people through the artworks they constructed.
Many of the images taken of Māori during the 20th century, such as the cartes de visite, were based purely on aesthetic value, and became products for consumption by a tourist industry. Photographers at this time were not always interested in who the people were that they were capturing, and often this important information remained undocumented. The identities of some of the people photographed at this time, including their tribal identities, still remain unknown today. Attempts to connect the people in these images with their descendants can be seen through exhibitions at Auckland Libraries such as Manatunga.
The Ngā Tuāhine Tokowhitu o Matariki exhibition subverts this approach by identifying not only the people, their iwi and their role at Auckland Libraries but by collaborating with artists from inside the culture. Images have been created on the terms of the sitter. Through interviews with the curator, a window into each woman’s experience is given, allowing a deeper understanding of what it was like for each individual Matariki star to have her portrait taken for a kaupapa Māori exhibition- in this present time.