10 Questions: Takahiro “Horitaka” Kitamura on “Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World”

Tattooing by Yokohama Horiken

For most within the tattoo world, Takahiro “Horitaka” Kitamura needs no introduction. Aside from being a renowned tattooer, Kitamura boasts an impressive resume as owner of State of Grace tattoo shop in San Jose, co-organizer of the Bay Area Convention of Tattoo Arts, and author of a number of widely-published books including Bushido: Legacies of the Japanese Tattoo (2001), Tattoos of the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Motifs in the Japanese Tattoo (2003), and Tattooing from Japan to the West: Horitaka Interviews Contemporary Artists (2005). We recently caught up with Kitamura to discuss his most recent endeavor – curator of the Japanese American National Museum’s upcoming exhibition Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World. Composed primarily of photographs by Kip Fulbeck, Perserverance showcases tattooing by a number of international artists and will surely be a landmark event within the history of tattooing. Just days away from the March 8 opening, Kitamura discusses with us, among other things, how the exhibition came to be, the artists involved, and the various issues that arise when organizing a show of this magnitude.

The exhibition takes place at the Japanese American National Museum – the largest museum of its kind in the United States. How did the exhibition come to fruition and why is the Japanese American National Museum such an appropriate venue?

Perseverance is the result of a bold move by director Greg Kimura and his staff. Dr. Kimura has long been aware of the increasing popularity of tattooing as a whole, as well as the appreciation and ubiquitous nature of Japanese style tattoos. This piqued his interest and he called on Kip Fulbeck, (professor, author, artist, poet, photographer, awesome guy extraordinaire) who has exhibited in the past with the Japanese American National Museum (JANM). Kip has [...]

Urban Primitive: Raven and Daemon Rowanchilde

I recently came across this fascinating interview from www.bme.com with body modification artists Raven and Daemon Rowanchilde talking about their ritualistic events which is frankly too good not to share.


BME: You’ve organized a number of ritual events in the Toronto area, including an annual ball dance / kavadi. How did these come about, and could you tell me a bit about them?

RAVEN: The ritual events came largely out of the growing number of people who had experienced powerful psychological transformations during their tattooing, piercing or scarification experiences. Daemon and I had over a decade of experience with bodily ordeals as rites of transformation. Since Urban Primitive provided a supporting atmosphere in which to have these types of experiences, many people starting asking us if we would organize more community-based events. As a student of social anthropology at U of T, I focused the majority of my research on pain inducing, body modifying rituals of pre-industrial indigenous societies. In particular, I became interested in male genital modification and that interest translated into a paper that I got published in the journal Human Nature. My interest in body modification extended into the varieties of ways that pre-industrial cultures explored voluntary pain induction as spiritual ritual. The spiritual component of pain rituals constituted an almost universal phenomenon among pre-industrial indigenous societies.


Also at that time, Fakir Musafar had been actively involved in his own explorations of pain rituals. Initially Fakir’s focus was to simply explore techniques used by other cultures to attain ecstatic states of consciousness. These early explorations appealed to Daemon and I.



Rituals of the flesh act out committment.


- Raven Rowanchilde, UP: TUJ 

BME: What role does spiritual ritual play in a society that appears (?) to be largely devoid of [...]

Speculative design and the body

Speculative design and the body

The body has never been complete, or at least the body has remained a construction site for improvement, exploration, extension and expression since the dawn of time. And for the most part, this isn’t a bad thing. Imagine being content with the 20sqf of skin encasing the mundane movement of fluids, food and shit. Better to imagine (and patiently wait for) a time when men can finally endure the menstrual cycle.

Thankfully, the increasingly intimate body/tech relationship has attracted artists and technologists keen to practice god-like autonomy. The results are speculative objects, products and scenarios that aim to match or predict the requirements of our social climate in extreme ways.

See below for more details on products that aim to push the body and in turn, perfectly solve our contemporary needs.

Traces of an Imaginary Affair

The desperation to conceal ill-directed lust has been flipped to expose a niche where self-imposed bite marks, bondage burns, scratches and bruises can be used to advantage. The silver collection presents nine tools allowing users to recreate intimately violent traces on the skin. Designer and lecturer Björn Franke has even considered stray perfume, hair strands and lipstick as necessary additions to his set. Inspired by ‘stories of people who used fake evidence of victimisation or illness to receive attention from others’, Traces of an Imaginary Affair would seem like a sure fire way to tease some jealousy out of a lazy spouse.


Goosebumps Simulator

This simulator is a hairy adhesive that you attach to the back of your neck and will start searching for the first signs of a Goosebump. Once the application detects a hair erection, it not only then raises the artificial hairs on the adhesive but also creates more Goosebumps. The aim, through creating an influx of Goosebumps at anyone time, is to see what kind of emotion will [...]

Who is www.zimbabwe2003.tumblr.com ?

Akhen Aten is the 21 year old behind the popular tumblr http://zimbabwe2003.tumblr.com Unlike the usual juxtaposition of inanimate words that create most URL names for post adolescent tumblr users Akhen’s deals with his own situation much more directly. He lived in Zimbabwe until 2003 and was born there in 1992.

Crammed with what we all expect of the carefully sculpted attention to the creation of a digital self of this kind of tumblr user, the webcam selfies, nostalgic images from the most recent turn of the century and most importantly photographs of tropical plants, however Akhen page separates itself from what so easily becomes tumblr pastiches while still representing the aesthetic.

You might be thinking why are we interviewing the creator of a tumblr? What makes the bedroom fuelled narcissism of a digital profile important for you to read about? Everyone is now guilty of creating an internet self which exaggerates or shuns a truth to our physical self and as the internet excels the ways in which we express ourselves, the ways of creating an identity becomes more and more complex. In our world now where everyones mother has a Facebook how can we differentiate one profile to the next, what makes someone stand out?

Many use tumblr as a way to produce a false sense of their own experiences, a way to make a nostalgia before its inception could ever happen. But more than anything the internet has made the creation of the self a democratic chance for anyone to attract anonymous popularity and even fame for simply being  projection of themselves.

Akhen of course isn’t the only person to do this but its rare to find someone whose internet self is so refreshingly authentic and creative without being so opaquely [...]

KARLHEINZ WEINBERGER Portraits, 1959-1987

Karlheinz Weinberger is the photographer famous for his portraiture of the pre-Stonewall post war subcultures in his native Switzerland. This exhibition at Maccarone in New York will share many unseen images taken by Weinberger from 1959 to the early 80s. Encapsulating his most well known themes, intricate embellished biker jackers, tattoos, crotch shots and touching portraits of ultra masculine men the exhibition will be sure to take a glimpse into Weinberger’s fascinating photography.

Starting his career taking photographs at underground gay clubs of rebellious working class men his work created an aspect of dressing the body like no other subculture of its time can compare its self to.

 In post-war Switzerland, they were referred to as the “Halbstarke”, (meaning “halfstrong”), working class boys and girls dissatisfied by the conservative climate of the day. Weinberger’s obsession with their otherness resulted in the remainder of his “true” life’s work, recording and tracking a history of one particular subculture.

Weinberger’s interest in this nascent scene and its use of the body led to an enduring study of their rituals and lifestyle. The Halbstarke’s gang identity was expressed in their distinctive self-branded DIY clothing of which Weinberger created a visual record: jeans embellished by a crotch of bolts or angled thrusts of pins; embroidered and patched motorcycle jackets; armor like belt buckles referencing and emulating American icons such as Marlon Brando, James Dean and Elvis Presley; thickly-teased hairdos accented by the chunky wool sweaters and draped animal skins surrounding them. These tribal distinctions, forged in bold strokes, signify what was evolving into a universal appreciation for the intricacies of the other, their tales of reclusive honor told via tattoo emblems and jacket crests, harkening the underground of the late 1950′s zeitgeist.

Considered in a broader anthropological sense, Weinberger’s practice [...]

Early American Gravestones

Walking past the Trinity Church Ceremony in Lower Manhattan, I first became enamored with early American gravestones, from the “amateur” to the hauntingly ornate. Luckily for me, the American Antiquarian Society houses a terrific database of photographs of headstones: The Farber Gravestone Collection.

The 2003 introductory essay to collection, penned by the late Jessie Farber, who contributed many photographs, provides a wonderful introduction. By summarizing previous scholarship, Farber provides plausible (although admittedly incomplete) interpretations for many of the symbols and motifs whose morbidity first fascinated me:  skulls, hourglasses, scythes, and coffins  to the Puritan emphasis on human mortality, and winged faces and angels as parallel motifs to a mid-18th Century emphasis on resurrection rather than mortality. She also transcribes some of the headstones’ macabre verses:

Molly tho plea∫ant in her day
Was ∫udd’nly ∫eiz’d and ∫ent away
How ∫oon ∫hes ripe how ∫oon ∫hes rott’n Sent to her grave & ∫oon for gott’n
Mary Fowler, 1792, Milford, Connecticut 

The collection is incredible, not only in its documentation of the gravestones, but in its photographic value. Comprising the work of four photographers spanning many decades and professions–Harriette Merrifield Forbes (1856-1951), Ernest Caulfield (1893-1972), Dan Farber (1906-1998) and his wife, Jessie Lie Farber– the collection reveals four distinct approaches. The collection’s photographers both lived and worked during different eras, and they approached their photographs with different backgrounds and motivations: Forbes photographed during the 1920s as part of a stylistic analysis and attribution project, Caulfield, a doctor, photographed in the 50s, discovering the gravestones through his research on 18th century “throat distemper,” and the Farbers were photographers by profession.

Of course, the sheer variety of these stones is mind boggling: from the simplest incised skulls to the full reliefs of modeled reapers, each stone feels both idiosyncratic and fully embedded in [...]

YOU CAN SURF LATER – A collection of engraved trench Art. GI Zippo lighters from the Vietnam War era.


‘Imagine being one of the young American soldiers caught up in the Vietnam War. You would have had a Zippo lighter with you, an indispensable ‘tool’ and an unfailing companion. After buying it at a supply shop from the Army, you probably would have had it personalised by a local Vietnamese engraver, or maybe you would have bought one on the black market already decorated with an engraving popular amongst your brother-in-arms.

Ivan Liechti collects pictures of engraved GI Zippos from the Vietnam War era. In this issue, he presented a collection of those artworks, redrawn and transferred onto paper in order to preserve their rather crude original appearance. The work represents a kind of modern day epigraphy.

On these small metal objects, one can discover a whole world of images, a direct insight into the mind of the soldiers thrown into battle, on average only 19 years old, as well as a reflection on a troubled period of war and socio-cultural shift in the history of the USA.  The pictures, apart from countless images of naked girls, explicit sexual drawings or military insignia, show that you could also have chosen a design related to your civilian life, inspired by songs you were listening to or by comic books you were reading. And aside from the bow tie Playboy bunny, there would have been images with political statements like Snoopy fighting the Red Baron, one-fingered salutes, or the raised fist from Afro American Black Power movement.

But in the end you might have decided simply to have your Zippo engraved with the terribly accurate:


You can buy the book here: http://side-issues.net