“We’ve all got to do something, and that one star represents one person, one voice, one aspiration, one hope, or one dream. We can create magic when we work together.” Maryann Talia Pau on One Million Stars to End Violence, and the power of community in generating discussion and creating change

Emma Kate Lewis: Can you tell our readers a bit about who you are and what you do?

Maryann Talia Pau: Sure! I’m an artist and a practicing weaver. I make body adornments, and what I affectionately refer to as ‘Pacifica bling’—woven earrings and jewellery using materials from home [Samoa] but also newer materials that I now find here on my new island home, which is Australia. I make for exhibitions, but a big part of my practice is workshops. I love to teach other people how to weave.

EKL: Tell me more about these workshops?

MTP: I run plait, basket, and coiling weaving workshops. It’s just a nice way for people to be able to come together and relax, learn something new, and meet some new people. And to learn a little bit about my culture. It’s a nice way to sort of say to people, “Y’know, making is really important!”

We all come from cultures where we make things—the value of making is really important.

So yeah, it’s just a really beautiful way to chill and take some time out, but also to make something beautiful and to have—often very meaningful—conversations with strangers.

EKL: How did One Million Stars first come to be?

MTP: I started One Million Stars to End Violence in 2012 as part of my personal response to the rape and murder of a young woman in my community. It was a difficult time for our community, and I was really moved by peoples’ kindness and compassion. And by some words by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who talks about being light and love in the world, which I’d found on a note at the vigil outside our church. Those words are “Returning hate for hate 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.”

I knew what to do—I ran up to my studio, I grabbed some ribbon, and I began to do something that I know and that I love, which is to weave.

I started weaving these eight pointed stars, and then I sent out a message on social media and to my colleagues, pretty much just inviting the world to join me in weaving one million stars with the hope of creating an installation of stars by 2018. In 2016 I partnered with the Queensland Government, and together we made the One Million Stars installation dream a reality as part of Festival 2018 in Brisbane, which is part of the bigger arts and cultural program for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

It’s super exciting that we’ve reached our goal of one million stars, and that we get to share it on this international stage.

One Million Stars from Human Ventures on Vimeo.

EKL: I first came across your project a couple of years ago when it was in its early days while visiting a friend in hospital on the Gold Coast and thought it was incredible.

MTP: That’s so cool! Thank you.

EKL: What’s it been like managing this project, now that it’s on a much larger scale, in the lead up to Festival 2018?

MTP: It’s been huge, and the partnership with the Queensland Government and the Office of Commonwealth Games has been key to getting the stars out there. It’s had a huge reach, and I think I can say it’s been a lot bigger than what everyone first expected—it’s definitely exceeded my expectations. Often people say, “Did you ever think you were going to reach one million stars?” and I tell people that I deliberately picked one million stars because I needed it to demonstrate just how monumental the task of ending violence and creating peace within our communities really is. It’s not one person, or one arts project, or one government, or one organisation, or one gender—it’s everybody, all of us, in our schools and families and villages and workplaces.

We’ve all got to do something, and that one star represents one person, one voice, one aspiration, one hope, or one dream. And if we have lots of those then we can move mountains. We can create magic when we work together. It never was about the number, it’s really about bringing people together. It’s about encouraging people to be the light and the love in their communities—that’s what ultimately makes a difference.

It’s been an amazing journey. I’m feeling incredibly overwhelmed. We’re not far out now from our community gathering, the lighting of the stars, and I just know that it’s going to be absolutely beautiful. That I’m going to be blown away, and that I’m going to remember every star weaver that I’ve met over the last six years of this project, and the places that I’ve travelled to, and the messages that we get with some of the stars that have been sent in… The conversations that people pull me aside to have… Yeah, it’s incredible, and I’m just so honoured to know and be a part of this huge global community of people that care and are really committed to creating peace and light in our world.

EKL: As well as being very rewarding it must be quite emotionally taxing. How do you ensure that you look after yourself?

MTP: I hear you. That’s such a great question. I’m encouraged by the generosity and goodness of people everywhere. I keep mentioning Queensland Government, which has been this huge machine, but you know it just reminds me that there are good people everywhere who are trying to do so much. This is about a lot more than just one million, eight-pointed stars—it’s about people caring and wanting to make a real impact. I’m so grateful for my family. I remember coming home and telling my husband, “Honey, you know, I was really moved at this vigil and I just came up with this idea that I posted about on social media but I wasn’t really thinking about what I was doing!” and he was like, “Ok, well, let’s do this then!” He’s been incredible, as have our kids, and our extended family… The ocean and the water have been critical to my mental health too—every now and then I’ll go to my local bay and just put my feet in the water. I’m really inspired by nature, and by good people doing little things that make a big difference.

EKL: It sounds as though having community support, which is what the project is all about in the first place, makes a huge difference and in turn helps fuel the project. It’s nicely cyclical.

MTP: Yeah! I’ve met lots of people who aren’t particularly interested in weaving stars, but they love the cutting of the ribbon—a couple of women have sent me photos of little gadgets that their husbands or brothers have put together so that they can efficiently cut ribbon. It’s so brilliant, I love it! Again, everybody can do something. You don’t need to be a star weaver, you don’t need to be an artist, to participate—this project is about inclusion. Everybody can find their place in the star weaving community, even by making a cup of tea or a sandwich for a star weaver so that they can keep weaving for a couple of hours.

EKL: The whole process of weaving is especially beautiful to me because once you’ve got the hang of making the stars you can really switch off and reflect on what you’re making and why. It’s such a gentle way of getting the message across, and of ultimately making a real difference by encouraging people to take the time to reflect on this issue because I think that’s what really generates change. And to have something that helps make the experience tactile when it’s something that those who haven’t been directly impacted [by domestic violence] might often feel removed from…

MTP: Absolutely! I’m a maker, so I understand that.

I know how weaving has brought me tremendous healing. It’s helped me to sit still and find a way to get help, and to forgive, and to release. That’s my story, so I can speak to the power of this project.

So many people tell me, “Maryann, this is such a beautiful, gentle way to get involved because I often don’t know what to do.” There is so much violence—I mean you know, Emma. Everybody knows. We could just talk about all the bad things in the world and get completely overwhelmed, and feel completely paralysed by thoughts of “I don’t know enough. I don’t know the statistics. All I know is my own personal experience and that of my kid.”

But, you know, we heard this beautiful story recently about a boy who was nearly expelled from his school before he heard about the star weaving action that was going to be happening as part of the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence in schools. It was his mother who wrote to us and said, “Thank you so much, it’s completely transformed our child. He’s now engaged in school, and all because of star weaving.” He’s found something that he can do, that helps him make sense of his actions and his behaviour. It’s given him time out to think about his behaviour, to realise, “It’s not ok to hurt others. I have to be responsible for myself and for the impact and consequence of my actions.” So yeah, we have those stories.

On the other hand, we do have some criticism that the project isn’t doing enough. “It’s just a pretty star, what a waste…” Stuff like that. I like to joke, so I say, “You know, I’m an artist, I’m used to some people saying that my work isn’t valued.”

But lots of others, and I myself, know that I can stand with dignity and say, “This project has reached people who were so broken and have now found a way to be a part of a community that they never were part of before.”

When people create their star weaving communities I tell them, “Just include anybody. Bring your paper, your ribbons, a plate of food and a cup of tea. You don’t need to talk.” Often, people will come to a workshop and they don’t have anything to say. They just sit and then, naturally, people start talking. [The stars] are helping people. I recently got a message from a young woman in New Zealand who was part of the project really early on and was like, “Maryann, I’m just reaching out to let you know that the last couple of months have been really tough but the stars are keeping me alive. Thank you again.”

EKL: I think the power [of the stars] is really subtle. It’s gentle. It’s about reflection… Less about current action and more about reflection on past actions that will help us to act better in the future. It’s a very subtle community power that shouldn’t be underestimated.

MTP: Absolutely. I’ve learned over the years that we need our policy makers and changers, people on the streets rallying and marching, the conferences and the gatherings, and leadership professional development, and we need this. This is why art is so beautiful and can be really powerful, because it’s important for our communities to be able to find different ways to have these kinds of conversations. These issues aren’t going to go away without them.

We can be our own worst enemies, but there’s also so much beauty and goodness and hope in people. That’s what I want to focus on. We’ve got the solutions. We’ve just got to have courage and act in solidarity.

EKL: What does an average workday look like for you at the moment, if there is such a thing?

MTP: [Laughing] I try to start really early with a walk around my neighbourhood and the bay. I give thanks and prepare myself, mentally and spiritually, for the day. Then it’s breakfast and getting the kids ready for school—my youngest is in Grade 6. After that it’s back home to finish some earring orders, answer emails, and update my websites in time for the afternoon’s pickups and family dinner in the evening featuring lots of stories about everyones day.

EKL: What’s next for you?

[Laughter]

EKL: Hopefully you’ll take some time out for yourself! But yeah, what’s the future got in store for you?

MTP: Life after… Well! I want to think about the future of the One Million Stars project. I’d love to tour some of the stars. I want to think about that, to dream, and to see what’s possible. I’ve got some new artwork and projects that I’m working on, which are really exciting. They’re still in the vein of weaving, and involve looking at local social enterprises and responding to their work as an artist and as a weaver. But I’m thinking about some study as well! I’m really interested in how art is being used as therapy to help people deal with trauma. How art can really be a positive contributor to those kinds of conversations. But yes, definitely rest. Rest, new work, and the future of the One Million Stars project, all of which is really exciting.

Experience the spectacular One Million Stars temporary public art installation presented by Museum of Brisbane in King George Square, Brisbane from the 29th March to 15th April 2018 as part of Festival 2018 during GC2018.


Special thanks to Chris Currie for getting in touch to provide us with the beautiful video included within this post. Read the One Million Stars Case Study by Human Creative and keep up with the amazing work being done by Human Ventures on Facebook and Twitter.

Images provided by P4 Group

Interview conducted, compiled, and edited by Emma Kate Lewis

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