The Mataaho Collective is a group of four Māori women artists that create large-scale installations. The group has been working together since 2012 towards a common goal: to create contemporary structures and aesthetics that are rooted in Māori customs and values. This helps them carry on Māori traditions, which garner international appreciation. They act as an awareness-raising platform for New Zealanders and the world to state that the Māori, the Indigenous people of New Zealand, are still here and deserve equal rights. This makes their work relevant to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Reduced Inequalities.

Photograph of the Mataaho Collective, from left to right: Dr. Terri Te Tau, Bridget Reweti, Sarah Hudson and Erena Arapere-Baker, with their mentor Maureen Lander (centre). Image courtesy of Te Ao Māori News.

The Mataaho Collective champions a ‘four brain, eight hands approach,’ meaning they see each artwork they create as a collaborative effort, with labour being dispersed equally between its members. The collective also tends to create large-scale installation projects since they aim to show that small individual efforts can come together and create something larger than life. Most importantly, they create large-scale works to occupy space and represent the Māori people, whose presence has often been excluded from contemporary narratives.

Tuakirikiri by the Mataaho Collective exhibited at the 2023 Gwangju Biennale. Image courtesy of the Mataaho Collective’s website.

One of the collective’s most recent pieces is Tuakirikiri, which was exhibited at the 2023 Gwangju Biennale. The piece is a large installation of individual braided strands made of customary Māori weaving patterns designed to emulate water. These strands crisscrossed the room, creating a sort of fishnet, showing that the many can unite to create a strong whole. 

The weaving patterns of Tuakirkiri were traditionally used to create baskets for collecting seafood or for decorating canoes. The piece’s title itself is taken from the Māori phrase, “He ope ā Hine-Tuakirikiri e kore taea te tatau”, which is directly translated as “A group of Hine-Tuakirikiri (the personification of gravel) that cannot be counted.” It is a proverb meant to conjure the timeless solidarity, power in numbers and strength that the Māori people draw from their ancestors. This makes Tuakirikiri a powerful testimony to Māori solidarity; not just amongst themselves, but also with the people of the world and the nature around them.

A 2021 survey by the Independent Māori Institute for Environment and Health (Te Atawhai o te Ao) found that 93 percent of Māori in New Zealand have experienced at least one form of racism in their daily lives. On top of that, 96 percent of the respondents say that racism is a problem faced by members of their whānau (family/found family/community). This is why the work of the Mataaho Collective is crucial for the Māori people—it draws attention to their plight to fellow New Zealanders and also to the world.

The Making of Tuakirikiri by the Mataaho Collective, exhibited at the 2023 Gwangju Biennale. Image courtesy of the Mataaho Collective’s website.

The Mataaho Collective’s large-scale installations honour Māori heritage and showcase their cultural resilience. Their collaborative approach is a testament to the bond and amity that the Māori share between themselves, other Indigenous peoples of the world and nature. In today’s reality, where the Māori and many other Indigenous communities around the world are denigrated and face systemic racism in their daily lives, the Mataaho Collective’s work amplifies their voices and advocates for equity and inclusion.

Detail of Tuakirikiri by the Mataaho Collective, exhibited at the 2023 Gwangju Biennale. Image courtesy of the Mataaho Collective’s website.

Find out more about the Mataaho Collective’s installations and their other initiatives by checking their Instagram on @mataahocollective.

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