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‘We Can Do Something Monumental’: How to be One in a Billion

Photo: Raymond Sagapolutele.
Photo: Raymond Sagapolutele.
Photo: Raymond Sagapolutele.
Photo: Raymond Sagapolutele.
Photo: Raymond Sagapolutele.
Photo: Ren Kirk.
Photo: Ren Kirk.
Photo: Ren Kirk.
Photo: Ren Kirk.
Photo: Ren Kirk.
Photo: Ren Kirk.
The woman who turned a simple creative concept into an international phenomenon explains the inspiring message behind her work - and how you can be part of it.

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New Zealand-born Samoan weaver Maryann Talia Pau has brought her global star weaving movement One Billion Stars to Silo 6 at Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter until 18 July as part of Matariki Festival 2021. With over 300,000 stars on display, visitors are encouraged to weave their own and be part of this important kaupapa. Maryann tells The Big Idea how a community tragedy inspired a worldwide outpouring of love and support through artistic endeavour.

 

I’m someone who likes to go big, who believes in small consistent steps to achieve monumental things. 

I remember my dad telling me I could do anything I wanted to do, and I had teachers at Owairaka Primary School who instilled this same value. I want to be one of those adults, who says to my colleagues, my family and my neighbours, “you’ve got this! Believe in yourself and be kind.” That’s a good start I reckon.

 I grew up in Mt Roskill, Tāmaki Makaurau, before my parents migrated to Melbourne, Naarm, Australia so it’s very special for me to return to Auckland to launch Vaka to A Billion Stars and our new star weaving movement of One Billion Stars to the world.

Like Matariki, Vaka to A Billion Stars is also a celebration of this divine and ancient relationship between the stars/galaxies, creation and humanity. So, it’s fitting to see One Billion Stars being supported, activated and in conversation with work by these local artists. This has been a very meaningful way to celebrate our different experiences and stories of what the stars mean to us as creatives and the communities or cultures we represent. There’s so much to learn and marvel at so I feel honoured to share One Billion Stars during Matariki.

Vaka to A Billion Stars has been a huge collaboration and journey of building relationships over the years, so really, the mahi and the mana of all participating artists has made #VTABS possible. Artists include Louie Bretaña, Tui Emma Gillies, Sione Monu, Rosanna Raymond, Tanu Gago in collaboration with Nahora Ioane and Marc Conaco.

Photo: Ren Kirk.

I started this project a decade ago, after a young woman in my community was raped and murdered. I’d never seen people gather like that to honour her. I remember being so moved by the profound outpouring of grief, anger, confusion and shock and by some words by Dr Martin Luther King Jnr which I found in the sea of flowers for this young woman. 

Those words really are the heart of the project and they are: ‘Returning hate for hate only multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’

Maryann Talia Pau. Photo: Raymond Sagapolutele.

I knew what I needed to do after that. I ran up to my studio next to the vigil and I grabbed some ribbon and started weaving these stars. The weaver in me knew that I needed to do something to make sense of this tragedy. 

At the time, I was imagining the night sky being filled with so much light that everyone could make it to the safety of their loved ones. And that’s when I came up with this idea, “I want to weave lots of stars. In fact, I’m going to ask people around the world to join me to weave one million of them.” 

So I made it my mission to teach as many people as possible around the world how to weave an 8 pointed star, each star being a symbol of light, courage and solidarity to end all forms of violence. 

Photo: Raymond Sagapolutele.

The goal was to collect and display one million woven stars in one place. We smashed that goal and received over 2.4 million woven stars, from over 15 countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Malaysia, Japan, Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Ireland, England, Nigeria, Barbados and Scotland with the support of the Office of Commonwealth Games. We displayed one million woven stars during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games as part of the Arts and Cultural Program. 

That was a huge milestone for our star weavers and to celebrate it on a global platform was so rewarding and moving. But why stop at a million?

Photo: Ren Kirk.

The reaction to this project here in New Zealand has been beautiful and really uplifting. I have to remind myself that even though I carry the origin story of One Billion Stars and even though I know it inside out and have shared it hundreds of times, there are still so many that haven’t heard of it. And when they do hear about why I started the project and why one million and now one billion, people are encouraged and inspired to participate. 

Photo: Ren Kirk.

I think we all crave hope, joy and purpose, at least that’s how I’ve experienced people when I sit and weave and chat with them. Most people just want to share their story and have someone listen. 

Time is one of the most priceless gifts you can give another human being and star weaving or teaching someone to weave a star, is all about time and being present with someone. Magic happens when you can give someone time and true investment.

My hope is that people here on this land know that we can do amazing things when we work together in deep collaboration. Our star weavers understand that it’s not the responsibility of one person, one artist or one government to end all forms of violence including violence against women, bullying or racism – it’s all of us.

Photo: Raymond Sagapolutele.

When we weave a star for our local challenges of violence, the intention and mana of our stars reaches across the moana to communities just like us who are weaving this same star for their local challenges. 

Ending violence and creating safety and dignity for everyone doesn’t have to be hard. We can make it a priority all the time; we can have creative conversations with each other any time because it’s good for business and culture. We don’t need a tragedy to mobilise to demand change, we can do something every day as simple, gentle and joyful as weaving these beautiful 8 pointed Pasifika stars.

The beauty of the stars is our symbol of hope and courage to each do a little bit to ensure that everyone can feel safe and loved. The star unites us, people just like us, all around the world. The stars remind us to look to the heavens, to remember that we are guided by our ancestors and great leaders who are doing important work to end violence and build community resilience.

Photo: Ren Kirk.

I often get asked, “Maryann, are you sick of the stars?” and I’m like, “Never. They are more than 4 pieces of ribbon woven together to make an 8 pointed star. They are filled with people's hopes, dreams, aspirations and the audacity to believe that we can do something as monumental as end all forms of violence.” I feel like the stars are here to stay. They’re still reaching across the country and around the world which just blows me away. It’s incredible!

Matariki is a time for welcoming in a new year, new dreams and aspirations, big ones, little ones, personal ones and ones for the communities we love. Now is the time to will them into being and star weaving helps us to do that, in a small, gentle but powerful way. I love that about this project.

Whatever issue you care about, know that when you weave a star, there are hundreds of thousands of people who want to listen and stand with you.
 

Photo: Ren Kirk.

 

The Vaka to a Billion Stars project is supported by Auckland Council - you can find more about #VTABS and other ongoing Matariki celebrations at Matariki Festival 2021.

 
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