After my post last week on the representation of facial tattooing in Inuit graphic art, I figured it would be appropriate to provide some historical photos of Inuit women with tattooing. These photos act as an invaluable record of an Inuit cultural practice that has since largely fallen out of favor as a result of missionary and colonial influences. Below you will find a selection of photos from the website of Library and Archives Canada alongside the titles given to the images on the website. By clicking the link beside the title you will be directed to the website which offers more contextual information on the image.
“Kila, a tattooed Inuit woman, from the Dolphin and Union Strait area, Coronation Gulf, N.W.T., [Nunavut], 1916. ” Via
“Ward aid Paulette Anerodluk looking after her own mother in St. Ann’s Hospital. Her mother, Eva Kokiloka, is tattooed in the traditional style.” Via
“Inuit woman with facial tattoos and braids.” Via
“Inuit woman with facial tattoos and braids.” Via
“Hilda Hipgogak at Charles Camsell Hospital, Edmonton, Alberta” Via
“This picture shows the tattooing of the different tribes.”
Calling Duncan X iconic within the tattoo world could seem like an understatement to some, as an integral part of Alex Binnie’s Into You shop in Clerkenwell Mr X has been turning out some of the most abrasive black work tattoos since before the shops inception.His severe appearance is completely authentic to his own art work and lifestyle. The completely original trademark style of tattooing that Duncan has so perfectly translated is solidly black and overwhelmingly brutal in its imagery. Reading almost like a cliche, stories of his progressive and intense life have quite literally been imbedded into his skin.To explore more about this fascinating man director Alex Nicholson has created an absorbing short film with Duncan revealing accounts of his life. The sophisticated nature of the film has meant that through special effects the director has let Duncan’s tattoos slowly appear and crawl over his skin as the film progresses.The film was revealed on Tuesday so to celebrate this we’ve created a short interview with the director to find out more..How did you come about making this film?Well I just wanted to make a beautiful looking short for my reel initially. Shooting an interesting a subject as possible.
Who has this film been made for? Who do you want to be watching it?It wasn’t made for anyone really. Me I’d say at a push. I want everyone to watch it. I didn’t want it to be just for people who like/have/want tattoos or people who know Duncan, I wanted it to be as accessible as possible for all viewers..How involved are you as an individual in tattooing?Not at all really. I do have quite a few and will continue to get more, as long as Duncan promises to be gentler next time.
What is it about Mr X that you find so fascinating?Everything! Ha! – Its more to do with the fact that as you get to know him over time, these stories leak out. The fascinating tales of a thousand lives lived within one mans life. Its the fact that he’s highly intelligent, very eloquent, a delightful personality and looks like a Barber-surgeon from the 1900′sA great mix.Was there a particular stance that you wanted to take with the film?If I was pushed, I’d say that you should never judge a book by its cover.
How did the decision to have all of Mr X’s tattoo re-appear through editing occur?I wanted his tattoos to slowly emerge during the film. For him to start naked of tattoos and end as he is, covered. When we got into edit, myself and my editor (David Stevens @ the Assembly rooms) simply pieced together the best story that we saw in there. The animations and tattoos suddenly became secondary to the fascinating Duncan X.
Canada’s Inuit have a long history of tattooing that stretches back several thousand years. However, once the Canadian Arctic was colonized, the practice of tattooing faded almost entirely after being discouraged by missionaries. By the early twentieth century, few Inuit were continuing the practice. After the introduction of graphic art to the Arctic in the late 1950s by James Houston, many Inuit artists began depicting, and therefore recording, cultural practices such as tattooing that were in danger of being lost altogether. These artworks now act, alongside oral histories, explorer accounts, and photographs, as documents of a once thriving cultural practice. Inuit tattooing is now beginning to see a contemporary resurgence, with a number of Inuit women, such as Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, getting their own facial tattoos. Nevertheless, drawings and prints by Inuit graphic artists have become an essential part of the recording this practice’s history.
Jessie Oonark, Tattooed Women, 1960
Pitseolak Ashoona, Tattooed Woman, 1963
Peter Pitseolak, Tattooed Woman, 1975
Arnaqu Ashevak, Tattooed Women, 2008
(Image by Scott Campbell)
Photographer Nick Knight’s digital platform SHOWstudio has teamed up with Garage magazine in an exploration into tattoo’s (ever increasing) relationship with fashion, creating an editorial to be interpreted onto the body, captured and streamed live to the site’s viewers. The editorial shot by Knight, creative directed by Garage’s Dasha Zhukova and styled by Charlotte Stockdale will take inspiration from “the rebellious roots of body art and it’s association with subcultures and tribes”, to be reinterpreted by tattoo artists Scott Campbell, Angelique and Madame Chän onto the bodies of six volunteers, all live streamed throughout the process on SHOWstudio. The project named Always & Forever, alluding to the permanence of body art in comparison to Fashion’s fleeting nature, intends to create the editorial’s counterpart in something enduring.
The project will be streamed live today and tomorrow here.
Maellyn Macintosh is in the process of creating an exciting series of documentaries about tattooing in various cultures, but to complete all of the work that has been created so far she needs backing. You can read more about what Maellyn has created so far and watch a trailer of footage made so far.
In the first episode proposed Maellyn will travel to remote regions of India to document the indigenous tribes who use tattooing and piercing as an essential way of life, for healing, as a form of currency and as a form of religious devotion.
Here is Maellyn’s background to the documentary series so far:
Tattoos, piercing and scarification are now becoming mainstream and the taboos surrounding them are slowly vanishing. But where do they come from and why were they used?
Indigenous communities have cut, coloured, pierced and shaped the body for centuries as part of complex rituals; for identity, beauty, healing, spirituality, coming-of-age ceremonies, and even occasionally as punishments. There are still some communities who live as they did hundreds of years ago but most are being forced to integrate into western society, by threats to their land, resources and customs. Maellyn wants to tell their stories before they are lost forever.
Maellyn became fascinated by body modification while filming with a group of modern body modification artists and performers in London. Her curiosity lead her to begin researching the origins of these practices and in December 2010 she took a camera and made a trip from Kathmandu in Nepal, through Central India to Southern India. In Nepal she met the older tribeswomen with beautiful tattoos, whose grandchildren wouldn’t dream of tattooing in fear of not being offered work. In Central India she met the fascinating Baiga tribe, natives of the forest who use plant medicine in their tattoos, which are also placed on pressure points for healing. The women of this tribe wear their tattoos with pride as they are considered a currency which can be passed on to the next life. She also met the nomadic and elusive Ramnami tribe, a low caste tribe whose facial and full body tattoos bear the name of the upper caste god, Ram.
Now she will return to spend time with these tribes to understand what tattooing means to them, documenting the ceremonies, healings and tattooing process. She will also travel to Orissa to spend time with the spectacular tribes of that region with their beautiful tattoos and piercings.
Maellyn has chosen to crowd-fund the first episode, taking the project one step at a time. If she is able to raise more than the initial stretch goal, this will be used to begin the next episode.
As part of the project she will also create a colourful photography book, to document her travels and the stories of the people she meets, using Lomography cameras to highlight the colourful peoples and bright landscapes of the region. Here are some pictures we took as a test at Seven Seas Tattoos in Eindhoven, The Netherlands (click on the link):
She will also take small instant cameras to give to the communities so that they can document their own practices and have something to keep for themselves. This will be one way to ensure that future generations don’t forget the ways of their ancestors.
For us, this is the start of a long adventure, many journeys and fascinating stories. This is just the beginning, and we are so grateful that you have chosen to be a part of it!
Christo Geoghegan is a documentary photographer and writer who has made time to tell Sang Bleu about his time in the remote Northeast India and the fascinating culture of body modification practiced in the particular areas that he visited.
The art of tattooing and body modification has always been an intrinsic part of tribal culture. Cultural identity and heritage is the beating heart of any tribe and as such body art has been used as an external expression of internal values. It became a form of visual ID to indicate which tribe you were from and where your loyalties lied. And in the remote northeastern states of India, whose populations are predominantly tribal, this was important.
Northeast India is a collection of seven states connected to mainland India by a 21km wide stretch of land known as the Siliguri corridor. Though administratively Indian, much of the culture and people share almost no similarities with their Indian neighbours and as such the ‘Seven Sisters States’ are disparate siblings of their mainland brothers. Northeast Indian culture is far more influenced by the neighbouring countries of Myanmar, Tibet and to a lesser extent, Bangladesh. And it’s because of this isolation away from mainland governance and the inexorable modernisation that goes with it, that the region has remained one of the last bastions of tribal culture.
Back in 2009, I was incredibly fortunate to obtain the necessary permits required to enter the geographically secluded states of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland in order to meet and photograph two of its most famous tribal inhabitants: the Konyak Headhunters of Mon and the Apatani women of Ziro Valley. Both of these tribes are famous for their distinctive tattoos and body modifications, but the significance and origins of each are entirely different.
The Konyaks are a hill tribe separated across three different geographical locations. Some reside in the southernmost region of Arunachal Pradesh, some live in the hills of neighbouring Myanmar, and some, like the ones I spent time with, live in the state of Nagaland. The Konyaks have a rich history of being fierce and highly feared warriors and the tattoos that were adopted by the tribe were created to show this. The Konyaks became notorious across the region as headhunters, who believed that when they collected the skull of an enemy they could in turn harness the life force and soul that once dwelled inside of its original ‘owner’. Successful and prolific headhunters were then given the honour of being able to wear the mark, having their faces and chest covered in tattoos. The Konyak women however, would receive decorative tattoo designs (primarily on their legs) to signify various advancements in life. These tattooing practices would continue up until the late 1960s when Nagaland began to experience a cultural shift that would affect Konyak tattooing forever: Christianisation.
From the beginning of the 1940s Christian missionaries from America, Wales and New Zealand set out to the remote northeastern states to spread the gospel and attempt to convert non-believers. However, some of these envoys were of the opinion that many of the activities and beliefs that these tribes held were primitive or barbaric and preached to the tribesmen with a heavy hand. And as such, as Christianity began to spread across the region, many tribes began to lose sight of some of the ancestral heritage and original animistic beliefs that were once at the forefront of their very being.
This isn’t to say that Christianity did not bring some aspects of social prosperity to the region, in fact it was one of the main reasons that practices such as the violent art of headhunting were outlawed. But what is undeniable is that this shift in thinking began to have an impact on many forms of tribal art and expression, particularly tattooing culture. With the end of headhunting and a conversion to Christianity widespread, the Konyaks ceased all tattooing activities and with the number of tattooed Konyaks dwindling as their ages increase, the marks of the headhunter look set to be erased forever.
The women of the Apatani tribe however, had very different reasons for body art and modification. Believed to be the most beautiful in the region, the Apatani women were prone to being kidnapped and raped by the surrounding Nishi tribesmen. To stop this from occurring and protect the tribeswomen, the Apatanis agreed to begin a practice known as ‘imposed ugliness’. By ‘destroying’ the beauty that was so desired by these invading tribesmen, it was believed that they would no longer be at risk from attack. This practice was forced upon all Apatani women when they reached a certain age and began with facial tattooing: one single vertical line from the forehead to base of the nose and then five vertical lines beneath the lip to the base of the chin. Small incisions were then made into the sides of each nostril, and a plug, known locally as Yapping Hullo, were inserted into them. Over time, these plugs were replaced with larger ones in order to stretch the original incision until it was at an acceptable size.
However, it wasn’t Christianity that ended this bizarre form of rape prevention, but peace with the Nishi in the 1960s. Many Apatani women, distraught from having the practice carried out on them, chose to have elective plastic surgery to remove their imposed ugliness. But many embraced their modifications and a popular belief is held amongst many in the tribe that the larger the Yaping Hullo, the more beautiful the woman, inverting the original intention of the process.
There are still many other tribes in the region such as the Wancho of Arunachal Pradesh who still tattoo tribesmen, but as external influences begin to creep in at an increasing rate and globalisation begins to grip the region like an ever tightening vice, the art of tribal tattooing in Northeast India is beginning to slowly, but surely fade.
All images and text has been created by Christo, to find out more visit his website here: http://christogeoghegan.com
I was very excited to receive my copy of Drawing with Great Needles, a new compilation of essays published by the University of Texas Press on Native American tattooing in North America. The book claims to be “the first book length scholarly examination into the antiquity, meaning, and significance of Native American tattooing in the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains.” Despite my initial eagerness to delve into the volume, I felt that as a whole, Drawing with Great Needles suffered from methodological and thematic issues. Although I am neither a tattoo expert nor an anthropologist and cannot speak to the accuracy of the historical sources presented in its many essays, I did take issues with some of the broader claims of the volume and the evidence used to make them.
Some of the issues in the book become apparent in its introduction. In the summary of Chapter 1, editors Aaron Deter-Wolf and Carol Diaz-Granados explain how Antoinette Wallace’s essay “compiles ethnohistorical documentation and art historical evidence of Native American tattooing…These accounts from European and Euro-American explorers, settlers, and artists provide an essential window into the extent and variety of indigenous tattoo traditions that existed prior to European contact.” The notion of reconstructing a practice as it existed pre-contact by using post-contact, often biased colonial documents seems to me a problematic exercise, and, frankly doesn’t accurately reflect what Wallace does in her essay. In fact, Wallace thoroughly acknowledges the problems inherent in using colonial sources in her synthetic study of colonial texts and images. Some of the other essays in the volume do, however, un-critically use these kinds of sources in analyses of tattoo motifs and iconography without accounting to the historical specificity of tattooing and the documents that record it.
Another pattern that bothered me was the nonchalance of cross-cultural comparisons. Benjamin A. Steere’s essay, for example, tried to make a case for the plausibility of Swift Creek paddle designs being used as tattoo designs. To set a precedent for this “admittedly speculative” (by his own admission) claim, he discussed the tattooing and craft practices of tribal people in Africa and Borneo. I felt, however that this type of comparison neglected the cultural and historical specificity of tattooing in each place, reducing what could have been an in-depth analysis of Native American practice into a essentializing and reductive argument about “primitive” people across the world. For example, his discussion of anthropomorphic pottery in Africa provided some culturally-specific evidence behind the intersection in pottery and tattoo designs that did not exist in his discussion of Native America. His suggestions for further research, however, were very intriguing, and I hope they are followed through. As someone who studies art history, I was personally confused by F. Kent Reilly’s invocation of both Panofsky and “Myer [sic] Schapiro,” neither of which were examined in their full complexity and specificity (and even necessarily correctly, though perhaps that’s misreading on my part).
I do not want to discount some of the important work presented in this volume. Surely, the synthesis of colonial documents and prior scholarly work in the field is a worthwhile endeavor. Deter-Wolf’s essay, which used comparative archeological evidence to present a means of identifying tattoo instruments was very helpful. Furthermore, many of the essays presented here, especially Lars Krutak’s chapters suggest further thematic points of study. Not only does he contextualize tattooing motifs within Native American culture, but his thoughts regarding facial tattooing and the mouth as a “liminal zone” interested me by discussing the tattoos within context, on the body. Many essays in this volume established the aesthetic precedents for tattooing in other types of artistic practice, so I appreciated Krutak’s thoughts on why tattoos were placed where they were. I also found his photographs of ornamented deer skins intriguing, and wonder about the connection between the many sets of tattooed skin.
Essentially, I feel like this field of study requires a shift in focus, from trying to reconstruct traditional or “ancient” meanings and practices to thinking about the complexity of these practices after contact. If tattoos did have ritual functions, how did these functions change after the introduction of metal tattooing needles rather than the faunal instruments used previously? What can colonial interactions and the critical examination of colonial texts on tattooing tell us about the people who were observing as well as the people being observed (and what about the interaction between the two)? Furthermore, I think that scholars will need to grapple more strenuously with the issues and complexities created by the historical specificity of their sources, including images, which were often stylized or staged. Hopefully that will allow a more fruitful investigation into this interesting body of work in the future.
If anyone else has read the book (especially tattoo experts/anthropologists/historians), I’d love to hear your thoughts.