In many indigenous cultures around the world, the ancestral practice of tattooing is dying, and so when I see features like Aljazeera's "Algeria's tattoos: Myths and truths," I have hope that the traditions and the beautiful stories behind them will continue -- and perhaps spark a revival as we have seen with other cultures where tattooing has played a prominent role.
In addition to a great slideshow of the edler generation of the Amazigh, or Berber tribe, there are some personal stories of these tattooed women, which make it a must-read. Here's a taste:
Read more here.
Dapoy: last known Yapese to wear the full body tattoo.
I want to start the week off by sharing this great post by Dean Schubert on his experience tattooing on Yap Island, Micronesia. Dean -- whose Visual Tattoo is the longest standing shop in Humboldt County, CA -- took some time off from the studio to travel to Yap with his wife Britanny and explore the island. There, he had the honor of tattooing a traditional Yapese backpiece on Leo Pugram, owner of Yap's only professional tattoo studio.
Here's a bit of that experience:
With nearly twenty four hours of air travel and lay-overs, we made our way from Arcata, California to Colonia Yap. The majority of our stay was at O'Keefe's Waterfront Inn. Which made for a most pleasant stay. The owner of O'Keefe's, Don Evans, is a long time friend of Leo Pugram, and it was Don who informed Leo of Yap's traditional tattoo history. The last person to wear the tattoo on Yap passed away in the 1970s. With the practice suspended through discouragement by early western visitors and the eventual ban during the Japanese occupation from the 1920's-1940's, the art was mostly forgotten and unknown to some of the youth today.Head to Dean's site for more of his story and photos.
Yap tattoo on Leo Pugram by Dean Schubert.
In this second post on upcoming titles by Edition Reuss, we share our great excitement over Dr. Lars Krutak's new book "Spiritual Skin: Magical Tattoos and Scarification."
The 400-page, large format hardcover looks at healing, protective and shamanic tattooing and scarification across the tribal world -- a world that Lars has explored in his 15+ years researching tattoo traditions and rituals (a number of which he has experienced himself). [Read our profile on Lars here.]
More on the book from Edition Reuss:
[...] "Spiritual Skin: Magical Tattoo & Scarification" journeys into highly sacred territory to reveal how people utilize ritual body modification to enhance their access to the supernatural.
The book will also be out in September, and can be purchased for 98 Euros. You can pre-order the book in the US on Amazon for $150 or contact Lars directly for signed copies and special offers at email@example.com.
As a follow up to our mention of tattoo anthropologist Dr. Lars Krutak in the earlier post, I wanted to let you know that Sacred Gallery in NYC is hosting the photographic exhibit Shamanic Skin: The Art of Magical Tattooing, which features thirty selected works from Lars' portfolio. The opening is Saturday, February 4th from 7 to 10PM and runs until February 29th.Here's more:
In 1777, the word 'tattoo' was defined as 'an indelible mark or figure fixed upon the body by insertion of pigment under the skin or by the production of scars.' For thousands of years before that date, however, indigenous peoples practiced various forms of tattooing and scarification not only to beautify themselves or mark significant life achievements, but also to please or seek protection from particular spirits which inhabited their world.For a copy of the show catalog, email Kevin@SacredGalleryNYC.com. Lars' books "The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women" (2007) and "Kalinga Tattoo: Ancient and Modern Expressions of the Tribal" (2010) will be available for signing at the opening as well.
Sacred Gallery is located at 424 Broadway 2nd Fl (between Canal and Howard) in NYC.
Tattooing ultimately began to fade when missionaries and modernity arrived at the beginning of the 20th century. Furthermore, as new medical advances became known, tattoos of the medicinal kind were no longer believed to "hold power" or to cure. Chris Koonooka (Petuwaq), a local teacher at the Gambell School stated, "It seems like those folks who were born after 1915 stopped getting tattoos. Some were actually feeling fortunate for not being tattooed and some were feeling ashamed for being tattooed. Perhaps some were embarrassed about their tattoos, as some may have been influenced by the Christianity of those times."
But Lars was also hopeful that the younger generations of Yupik women would revitalize their tattoo traditions. It seems that this hope is being realized.
Last week, the Anchorage Daily News featured Yaari Kingeekuk (shown above), an artist and educator who wears the tattoos of her ancestors and also teaches native Alaskan songs and dances. While her tattoos were done by machine, not sewn, they still hold their original meanings:
Yaari credits her grandparents Jimmy and Mable Toolie for her interest in reviving St. Lawrence Island arts. Mable was one of the women Lars interviewed for his research into Yupik tattooing, and the first photo in his article.
Also reviving the skin sewing practices is Colin Dale of Skin & Bone Tattoo in Copenhagen. We got to see Colin stitching first hand at the Traditional Tattoo & World Culture Fest this past summer, and Brian posted a video of it here. If you haven't seen it yet, I recommend you check it out to watch the intricate (and painful) process.
Even more on skin sewing can be found in "Tattoos of the Hunter-Gatherers of the Arctic."
This past weekend, the AFP reported on ancient tattoo practices having a contemporary appeal in Rob Bryan's article "Myanmar's tattooed women lure tourists."
In it, you'll read stories of the few remaining Chin women who bear the facial tattoos of their ancestors, a rite of passage and act of beautification for young women that is vanishing as the new generation of Chin have not see its aesthetic appeal. They are, however, seeing how it could prove lucrative. As Rob Bryan reports:
The article also discusses the ethical debate on "human zoos" -- exploitation or education/documentation?
When one of the Chin woman is asked how she feels about the tourists, she says that she welcomes those wishing to learn more about her and her heritage, adding "Sometimes I feel like my parents' spirits are coming back to me through the visitors."
I recommend a full read of the article.
For a related look at the traditional tattoos of that region, read Lars Krutak's article for the Vanishing Tattoo: "Tattoos of Indochina: Supernatural Mysteries of the Flesh."
The Needles & Sins family sends wishes to our Kiwi friends affected by yesterday's earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. Disasters like these remind us to be grateful for the love and beauty in our lives.
To focus on the positive, we're posting this video above of Tim Hunt of Pacific Tattoo in Paekakariki (a small beach town about half an hour's drive out of Wellington). Tim's client Jack Elder sent us the link after spending the day getting tattooed. Jack best sums it up: "The video showcases some of Tim's work while discussing his attitude to tattooing -- a contemporary variant on traditional pacific designs, while remaining respectful of the living Polynesian tattoo traditions."
Indeed, Tim makes it clear in the video that he does not do traditional tattoos. "Proper Moko work should be done by a Moko artist," he explains. Viewing Tim's portfolio online, you'll see influences from different Polynesian tattooing, melded in a way that is unique and does not copy ancestral tattooing like Ta Moko.
The video, by Livlin Productions, not only shows Tim's tattooing but some beautiful shots of Paekakariki -- images that stand in sharp contrast to the devastating photos in the news now. Located on the North Island, the town was not hit by the quake; there are, however, plenty of those in the tattoo community in the South Island who have been affected.
To help in the earthquake relief efforts, you can donate to New Zealand Red Cross.
Tattoo Anthropologist Dr. Lars Krutak is no stranger here on Needles & Sins. We've linked his articles numerous times, from research on ancient skin sewing rituals to his visiting the oldest tattoo studio in Greece. We've applauded his documentary series for Discovery, Tattoo Hunter, which explores indigenous body modification practices worldwide. And we've listed his latest book, Kalinga Tattoo: Ancient and Modern Expressions of the Tribal, as a holiday gift guide pick.
What we haven't done is look beyond his work and profile Lars himself. This past weekend, The Borneo Post beat us to it. The article discusses his 15+ years researching tribal tattoo traditions and rituals, a number of which he has experienced himself. It focuses particularly on Lars's work in Borneo, as he was recently in Kuching to give a presentation at the Gathering of the Tribes 2011, a cultural expo that brought together international tattooists and tribal performers from across Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo). It's a great read and includes a touching story on his visit to the last Iban tattoo artist, who was dying.
Inspired by the article, I just interviewed Lars myself for Skin & Ink. Of course his many adventures could not possibly fit in a limited word count, so I'm offering some bonus bits from our talk below.
As a kid, was there any indication that you'd follow the path you're on today? Were you playing archeologist as a child or poured over National Geographics?
Living in Mexico 1979-81, we traveled all over the country and I visited every Maya/Aztec/Zapotec archaeological complex, so I thought I was going to be an archaeologist, especially after "Raiders of the Lost Ark" dropped. It didn't hurt that my parents had a Nat Geo collection with every issue dating back to the early 50s (which I still have), and I took that love of archaeology and anthropology to college. I double majored in anthropology and art history at the University of Colorado at Boulder (1989-1993) and never looked back.
Was your interest in tattoo sparked during your graduate work at Univeristy of Alaska Fairbanks or beforehand?
After undergrad, I chased my (then) girlfriend to San Francisco in 1995 where I landed my first salaried job at Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery that was operated by Paul L. Thiebaud, the son of Pop Artist Wayne Thiebaud. Right around the corner was Don Ed Hardy's Tattoo City in North Beach so I used to peek in the window on my lunch breaks. Also, my good ole buddy Tony Barton (Hell or High Water Tattoos, New Orleans) was starting to tattoo at that time, and this provided the initial awareness and interest in tattoos. I left San Fran in January 1996 to pursue graduate work in Fairbanks, Alaska, and as I was walking across campus during the second week, I met an Inuit woman with tattoos on her chin. I was hooked at that point, wanted to know more, and that's when I became obsessed with documenting tribal tattoos.
What continues to motivate your research after all this time?
The main thing that motivates me is that these traditions are vanishing around the world before being accurately recorded. Time has always been my enemy, and I wish I would have been born 100 years ago.
Tattoo anthropologist Lars Krutak, of Discovery's Tattoo Hunter series, has authored a gorgeous 424-page, 8-pound hardcover on indigenous tattooing in the Philippines:
Kalinga Tattoo: Ancient and Modern Expressions of the Tribal
The book is the first to explore the vanishing tattoo practices of the Kalinga people (whose ancestors also practiced headhunting). It also looks at today's revival of the art, particularly by the Tatak Ng Apat Na Alon Tribe, who are a growing organization of Filipino-Americans dedicated to studying and sharing these tattoo traditions. [I've been a long-time fan of the Tribe and encourage you to read more on their work here & check their YouTube page.]
Here's more on what's inside the book:
KALINGA TATTOO: ANCIENT AND MODERN EXPRESSIONS OF THE TRIBAL is a photographic masterwork that explores the vanishing art of Kalinga tribal tattooing in the remote mountains of the northern Philippines. Combining the visionary talents of numerous international photographers and the words and stories of nearly fifty Kalinga elders, Kalinga Tattoo is the first book to tell the story of this incredibly rich tradition of indigenous body art that is believed to be 1,000 years old.
Read more here.
Kalinga Tattoo is published by Edition Reuss, the same publishers of my Black Tattoo Art and Black & Grey Tattoo books, and so the crafting of this large-format tome is of the exceptional quality Edition Reuss is known for.
For North American orders, signed copies, and other special offers contact Lars Krutak directly. The books are also available on Amazon.com and LastGasp.com.
Professional photography in this post by Lee Corkett of Weathervane Images.
I am grateful to have talked with Roni Zulu, the prolific Los Angeles tattoo artist and owner of Zulu Tattoo. Zulu is a master of symbols and the meanings behind them. He started as a graphic designer and session musician until a yearning for more led him to the world of tattooing.
Zulu has tattooed many noteworthy people including Janet Jackson, Deborah Wilson, Mariah Carey, Queen Latifah, Bruce Willis, Montel Williams, Christina Aguilera, Alanis Morissette, Ben Vereen, Rosie O'Donnell, David Duchovny and Lisa Bonet to name a few.
We talked about how he got his start in tattoo, racism, spirituality, and how the art can evolve.
How did you transition from being a graphic designer and musician to tattoo artist?
Well, the transition from being a graphic designer to a tattooist wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I didn't know I would be venturing into a field that was primarily dominated by a prejudiced group of people: the underworld of tattooing was dominated and controlled by biker factions, skinheads and a lot of white supremacists groups. Upon entering into this world and seeking an apprenticeship, I couldn't get one. I was turned away, at times, laughed at as I walked out the door with racial slurs escorting me out.
So I realized that the only way I was going to learn was to teach myself. What I would do is go to conventions with a video camera and stand across the room and film people tattooing and in essence create my own instructional videos. Then I would go to the butcher market and buy pigs ears, a big flat piece of meat you can practice on, similar to human flesh. That was the only way I could break in because I could not get an apprenticeship.
When did you start tattooing?
I would say approximately 17 years ago.
Tell me about opening your own tattoo shop.
I assumed, well if I can't get an apprenticeship, I'm sure that I'm not going to be able to get a station in one of these shops. I went into many of them and saw that they were not the kind of places that I would want to be associated with. The one's that would have me weren't very reputable, and I decided I'm going to have to create my own world.
I opened my own shop after tattooing in my home. I started out tattooing friends and they would tell friends and it got to a point where I had to open a shop because I couldn't run that many people through my house.
When you opened a shop, did you get any resistance from other tattoo shops?
I got a great deal of resistance. It would be common to get to work check the messages and have messages such as "Nigger, close down your shop or were going to bomb it," or "Close down your shop or were going to break your legs." I got these kind of threats daily. At one point a lot of bikers came by with baseball bats and told me I had 24 hours to shut down the shop.
I'm not an advocate of violence but also I'm not going to run, so from that point on, for the next year I went to work with a 357 magnum strapped to my chest, where everyone could see it. I would be sitting there tattooing with a gun strapped so they would know. Like most bullies, they were cowards when they find you're not going to run. At that point, it was like by any means necessarily.
Photo of tribal tattoo masters Leo Zulueta and Rory Keating by Diane Mansfield
It's been tough getting to the media's tattoo news when I'm focused on my own, the upcoming release of my book Black Tattoo Art: Modern Expressions of the Tribal on September 10th.
I'll be doing a shameless post soon with more info on the book and how to buy it, but you can actually get a preview of what's in store by picking up this month's Inked Mag and checking out my interview with the godfather of modern tribal tattooing, Leo Zuluetta of Spiral Tattoo (shown above with Rory Keating who is also featured in my book). Here's a taste from that interview:
"I think there's always going to be a stigma to tattooing. Even as accepted as it is today, there's always a stigma, which goes back to deeply rooted church morals in society (although I have tattooed a Catholic priest twice at Bob Roberts' shop). Modern society will never accept something too primitive."I agree with Leo. Just look at some of this week's headlines and see how true it is:
The Dallas Police Department's "no visible tattoos" policy went into effect yesterday. Officers argued that the tattoos actually helped their job when undercover by giving them "street cred" but the Department still said that tattoos can be considered "offensive" when the cops go back on patrol. [As a tattoo snob, I raise my pointy nose at many a bad work, but if I'm in trouble and need a cop, no amount of inexplicable Kanji will ever offend me.]
In Pennsylvania, a State Police recruit is suing the Department because he was told that he had to remove his tattoo in order to be hired. Wow. The government telling candidates to undergo painful laser removal? He's suing under First Amendment arguments and claiming that the Department's tattoo policy is vague and overbroad. This one might win.
Across America, tattoo studio owners still have a hard time opening up shop.
In Malmo, Sweden, the nightclub The Swing Inn has a "no tattooed women" policy because they think "tattoos look distasteful." Thankfully, nightclub popularity doesn't even have the trendy staying power of the Kanji tattoo. Look forward to eating at the McDonald's that replaces it soon.
In Canada, a teardrop tattoo may land a Toronto man behind bars for life. The man was acquitted in the shooting death of a rival gang member but now that has been reversed because the Ontario Court of Appeal said that the lower court should not have excluded testimony from a gang expert that the teardrop tattoo signifies that the wearer has killed. This is a bad call. Tattoos symbolism is not a science. Yes, a teardrop could mean the guy killed a rival but it could also mean that he lost a loved one or fellow member. It could even be a dumb attempt to gain street cred. Leave it out of evidence.
[But a visible tattoo did help one Chicago man accused of robbery go free.]
Of course, there are the dumbasses that justify the stigma, like these people:
Maria Erika Vasquez of Brownsville allegedly tattooed her 6 and 10-year-old sons -- with three dots on the hand for "Mi Vida Loca" no less. Mother of the Year.
Or cage fighter Toni Valtonen who sports a large Nazi Swastika tattoo -- not the "gentle" kind we talked about last week -- along with a ton of other bad work. While he noted his tattoo regret in a statement, the best way to do so is with cover-ups and laser removal. Toni, here's more info on laser removal. A donation to a Holocaust museum would also be nice.
In shiny, happy tattoo news ...
The tattooed hotness of the above Sean Risley, model and former bodmod blogger, is gracing numerous mags this month -- notably Purple's Fall 2009 Fashion issue -- in Alexander McQueen's latest ads. See a close up of the add and Sean's tattoo work here.
The Hindu also talks about how hot tattoos are in India right now. Here's a taste of that interesting article on a growing tattoo culture:
While the old favourites -- angels on shoulders, tribal art on the lower back and Yin-Yang across biceps -- are still popular, people also design their own art now. Tattoo artists are constantly asked to come up with unusual concepts. Most people rarely stop at one tattoo - the city average is, in fact, is about five per person. And, 'conservative' Chennai is reportedly studded with seemingly regular people with unprintable tattoos across unprintable parts of their bodies.Check the slideshow illustrating the article, which includes this photo below.
In Australia, tattoo culture is equally thriving. According to the Herald Sun, "Popularity of tattoos among young Melburnians continues to grow, with a survey finding 70 per cent of people aged 16-30 are considering getting one in the next five years." Interestingly, tattoo removal is also on the rise -- "500% in the past two years."
And across the Internet, tattoos rank in the top 5 of the most common image or videos shared on Twitter, according to Mashable.com.
Case in point: the Twittered Tattoo Ode to John Stamos and his brilliant portrayal of "Uncle Jesse" in the classic must-see TV show Full House. Here's the Twit pic.
Have Mercy, indeed!