The stars came out for Puanga at a dawn celebration

This article was originally featured on Ensemble.

The stars came out for Puanga at a dawn celebration

This article was originally featured on Ensemble. Click here to read it.

On Friday morning, during a lucky break from the rain, Viaduct Harbour unveiled ‘Puanga’ - an immersive installation by creative director Tuhirangi Blair (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Awa) in collaboration with installation artist Angus Muir, for Matariki ki te Manawa.

In Aotearoa, Matariki appears in the eastern horizon and marks the beginning of the Māori New Year. But for some iwi, Matariki is not always visible from their location in the motu. Instead, Puanga was the celestial beacon for many iwi - the appearance of this bright whetū (Rigel in Orion) in the night sky signalled the start of winter, and a time for reflection, connection, and renewal.

To celebrate the opening of Puanga, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei hosted a dawn karakia in Market Square, where guests donned puffer jackets and sipped coffee to keep warm.

If you didn’t make it down, you can visit Puanga until June 30, between 6am and 10pm.

We spoke with London-based Blair, who is also behind the brand Lucky Dip, about the installation, his connection to Maramataka, and what he has planned to celebrate Puanga and Matariki from the UK.

What is the importance of Puanga to you?

For me personally, Puanga's importance lies in highlighting another celestial beacon used by Māori for keeping time. My overall goal is to illuminate the diverse stories Māori hold about the stars and their connection to the environment.

This year's focus on Puanga feels like a natural progression of my ongoing partnership with Viaduct Harbour. Together, we've brought attention to the Maramataka, Matariki, and now Puanga. What truly fascinates me is the advanced knowledge Māori possessed in reading signs from the natural world (Taio) and preparing accordingly.

I read this whakataukī: Puanga kai rau / The abundant harvest of Puanga. Are there any special foods you would eat, or plants that would be harvested around Puanga?

As the colder months arrive, the Matariki/Puanga celebration period naturally becomes a time for reflection, renewal, and strengthening whānau connections. Following the harvest, it traditionally served as a period of rest and gratitude for the bounty provided. This deep connection to food is beautifully captured in many whakatauki (proverbs).

For instance, "Ka rewa a Matariki, ka maoka te hinu" (When Matariki rises, the fat is hot) signifies a time for preserving food gathered during the harvest. Traditionally, this included kereru, which were a seasonal delicacy coinciding with the Matariki season.

While I can't offer Kereru in London, I'm thrilled to be partnering with London-based Māori chef Gareth Mangu (Ngāti Porou), to host a series of Matariki/Puanga dinners. These dinners will offer a taste of home, even far away, for people celebrating the holiday in London.

How did you celebrate  Puanga and Matariki, growing up? Are there key differences between the two?

This holiday wasn't a major part of my childhood celebrations. However, attending Maramataka Kura Pō by Rikki Solomon in recent years has deepened my appreciation for its significance in traditional practices.

Interestingly, during the Tangaroa period of the Maramataka lunar calendar (around the month of Pipiri), there seems to be little distinction between the two stars apart from location, signifying the start of the new year. This fluidity in celebration dates reflects the natural cycle of the lunar calendar.

Your art has many different mediums, including fashion. What do you like about working with installations, and creating a physical, experiential space?

The most rewarding aspect of creating experiential spaces lies in their accessibility. These spaces allow a wider audience, from all walks of life, to engage with my work. The Viaduct Harbour's fantastic location is a huge asset in this regard, as it naturally encourages and attracts a diverse crowd. This creates a perfect opportunity for them to experience my work and learn about the importance of the holiday. Collaborating with Angus Muir Design and Stacey Milham-Johnson from Viaduct Harbour has been a privilege. Their trust and support have been instrumental in bringing my concepts to life.

If you were making a garment to celebrate Puanga, how would you approach it?

My design process for this Puanga project would mirror my approach to the Matariki collection currently at the Auckland Museum. I'd delve into traditional stories, exploring the star's connection to our people and the environment. For Puanga, the narrative of her desire to steal Matariki's spotlight as the harbinger of the new year would be particularly interesting. This could translate into a dramatic gown, perhaps with a "Met Gala type beat”, reflecting Puanga's bold personality.

Being based in London, how will you be celebrating Puanga and Matariki this year? Do you have any traditions?

This year I'm working with chef Gareth to host a series of dinners called Hākari. We'll be serving a nine-course degustation menu, each dish thoughtfully crafted to represent a star within the Matariki cluster and its connection to the natural world.

Since Matariki itself is deeply intertwined with food and celebration, we felt a Hākari dinner series was a fitting tribute. It's a wonderful opportunity for New Zealanders in London to not only experience this special holiday but also gain a deeper understanding of its significance.

What would you encourage others to do around Puanga and/or Matariki?

It's time to reset and recharge. Reflect on the past year, honoring those we've lost. Then, set your sights on the future by crafting goals for the year ahead.