Black Matter
The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
14 November 2020 – 21 March, 2021



Capturing the moment a firework explodes in the night sky, Auckland based artist Reuben Paterson (Ngāti Rangitihi, Ngāi Tūhoe, Tūhourangi) uses his signature glitter canvases to evoke ideas of wonder, attraction and an interrogation of other.

The inky black backgrounds of this series of works reference the notion of dark matter and Te Kore, a Māori concept used to describe a time and space before light entered the world. Out of this darkness fireworks in skin-toned shades—including the pink of a fresh bruise, erupt energetically from the canvases tracing fiery paths across each work.

On the surface, these works remind us of the celebration associated with firework displays; New Year’s Eve, Guy Fawkes, Matariki and major sporting events such as the America’s Cup. They bring to mind spending time with family, friends and loved ones. Yet, they also hold the tension, potential for danger and unease that explosives bring with them. Do they signal a festival, a protest, an intimate moment shared or a call for help?

Although originally made in support of the 2017 Black Lives Matter protests in the USA and around the world; by dropping the ‘s’ that once formed part of the title of this series, Paterson references the changes in thinking that is happening around the globe. These works take on a new significance four years later as people become more engaged in conversations about how we negotiate shared space, individualism and ideas of togetherness.

There is also a sexuality within these works, sometimes referenced overtly in the titles such as Arousers. While at other times they are more nuanced and layered – only visible in the memories of exhilaration and passion that the fireworks convey. While it is difficult to ignore the suggestiveness of intimacy and the body, these works in essence are an in-depth interrogation of how gender, sexual orientation and skin colour may position us within a global context. There is a personal element to this for Paterson who has constantly navigated these complex territories throughout his career.

The firework takes on new meaning seen through the lens of Paterson’s careful hand. There is still the spark of joy and light with the promise of more to come, but there is also a social and political undercurrent that asks us to think a little more deeply about our own place in the world and how we inhabit it.