Earth Line Tattoo Training Residency
As an Nlaka’pamux cultural tattoo practitioner I have had the benefit and honor of helping in the revival efforts of many Indigenous nations across Canada as I travel and share the gifts I have been given. A simple question at my Earth Line Tattooing Action at the Gallery 101 exhibition opening of “Owning with the Gaze,” in October 2015 curated by Cheryl L’Hirondelle sparked my thinking, which has manifested into the first Earth Line Tattoo Training Residency. Rachelle Dickenson asked that pivotal question as she sat and chatted with me as she received her skin stitch Earth Line. It was a simple question in the context of the conversation around my work in reviving Indigenous tattooing in Canada, “What is next?” My reply came, “I need to figure out how to teach others how to do what I do.”
As I traveled to Aotearoa in November of last year I was absolutely floored by the amazing artists who have been working on reviving their ancestral tattooing traditions from across the globe. As I sat in the artist’s wananga which was entitled “Customary Roots- Contemporary Practice” I heard of the work being put forward by fellow cultural tattoo practitioner Maya Sialuk Jacobsen and cultural teacher and activist Holly Nordlum in their project Tupik Mi. They shared their plans to teach other Inuit women the technique of skin stitching as part of this amazing project. For more information on Tupik Mi the project and the film that is documenting this journey go check out these links.
The testimony that was shared by Maya and Holly and the other presenters including Nahaan, Elle Festin, Lawrence Ah Ching, and Keone Nunes began to kindle the fire inside me to share the gift of ancestral tattooing. My journey in Aotearoa continued to add fuel to this fire as I sat with my friend Nahaan as Turumakina Duley tattooed him at his friend Thomas Clark’s shop Matakiore Ta Moko Tattoo Studio in Auckland. As I talked with Thomas about his career he mentioned Derek Lardelli and his training at Toihoukura- School of Maori Visual Art and Design. Which is a program that teaches among many other things Ta Moko.
With these few experiences firmly planted in my mind I returned home from Aotearoa and in conversation with two friends of mine Amy Malbeuf and Jordan Bennett, who are both amazing Indigenous fine artists, I mentioned that I wanted to start an Indigenous tattooing school: so that I can share the knowledge that I have gained throughout my time as a cultural tattoo practitioner and scholar working in the subject area of Indigenous tattoo revival. They both enthusiastically encouraged me to do just that, and it has been with their help that I started planning and working towards the first Earth Line tattoo school.
The name Earth Line Tattoo Training Residency comes from the artists collective that Jordan, Amy, and I have co-founded, The Earth Line Tattoo Collective. Our working mission statement says:
Earth Line Tattoo Collective aims to enhance, expand, and support the work of traditional and cultural Indigenous tattoo practices across Canada. The collective is comprised of a dedicated team of cultural tattoo practitioners and visual artists: Jordan Bennett (Mi’kmaq), Dion Kaszas (Nlaka’pamux), and Amy Malbeuf (Cree/Metis). Earth Line is committed to ensuring the health and safety of our communities through training and adhering to the highest standards. We are committed to ensuring the cultural safety of individuals and communities we work with through research, collaboration, design development, and creating awareness of the cultural Indigenous tattoo practices of Turtle Island.
It has been through this collaboration in conjunction with the University of British Columbia Okanagan’s Indigenous Summer Intensive and their support from Aboriginal Arts at the Canada Council of the Arts and the University of British Columbia’s Equity and Enhancement Fund that this project has been possible.
As we have navigated through the development of this project and the process of gaining funding to hold this training program we have had the unbelievable mentorship of Ashok Mathur. We would further like to acknowledge the support of Stephen Foster for his support in the successful application to the Equity and Enhancement Fund.
With this background in mind let me introduce you to the project and those who will be participating in it. The following project description and expected outcomes are the narrative which lead the Equity and Enhancement Fund to support this project.
Project Summary and Objectives:
The fire to revive Indigenous tattooing traditions has been ignited in North America with cultural tattoo practitioners coming from Hawaii and the Pacific to help in this process. People in local communities have started tattooing without any formal training, which puts whole communities and the larger public at risk. The one thing I have learnt throughout my training as a professional tattoo artist is about the importance of knowledge and training around blood-borne pathogens and cross contamination. The development of a training program that helps to fill the gap in the need for trained professionals who can not only provide the service of assisting in the revival of tattooing traditions across Canada is one of necessity to ensure the future health of our communities and nations. Indigenous peoples in Canada need professional cultural practitioners that are trained in the design, application and health aspects of tattooing. Conducting this pilot project during the summer Indigenous residency will allow us to engage a wider Indigenous audience and solicit their feedback.
The project objectives are to host a residency style training program that will help fulfill the need for trained cultural tattoo artist practitioners in Canada. This project will include four Indigenous fine artists that will be trained to tattoo in a cultural safe and appropriate manner. This training program will work with the four Indigenous fine artists who will in the end be qualified professional cultural practitioners that are trained in design application, cultural and spiritual safety, and the health aspects of tattooing. During this residency emphasis will be placed on health and safety with the trainees being certified in blood borne pathogens, research into each individuals cultural and ancestral tattooing tradition, cultural protocols that relate to the application and practice of tattooing in each community, and design application.
Expected Project Outcomes and benefits:
The expected outcomes include the full training of four Indigenous fine artists in the practice of traditional tattooing. We will include the practice of hand poke and skin stitch tattooing, certification in blood borne pathogens and a clear conviction of their responsibilities as cultural tattoo practitioners. The project will also deliver the development of presentations that outline safe practices and the importance of Indigenous tattoo revival. The artists will be trained on the use of online and conventional libraries and archives as well as taught how to interview elders knowledge keepers and community members so as to add knowledge of this practice in Canada. Each artist will be building an essential set of skills that will be part of the decolonization process and the healing of their respective communities in the revival of a key cultural artistic tradition and returning a practice that will strengthen individuals in their own cultural identity. Each artist will be building up a portfolio of cultural tattoos as they learn the practice, which could be exhibited as a collective of photographs, and video related artworks that document the journey of learning and healing. The lead facilitator will access this collection to support and endorse future learning opportunities. Curators and senior writers invited to the summer Indigenous residency will be invited to comment on the tattooing project as well.
The above described project will be a benefit to the communities that these four individuals will have the honor of serving as trained cultural tattoo practitioners. This project has the potential to benefit the healing of Indigenous individuals and communities as they go on the journey of embodying their own Indigenous identity in the form of receiving a tattoo. As described there exists a gap between the desire of Indigenous community members wanting to be tattooed and trained professionals to do such work which has begun to be filled with individuals who do not have the appropriate training and who are putting whole communities at risk. This project is seeking to fill this gap. The revival of Indigenous tattooing is not only about the revival of a tattooing tradition, it also about the rebuilding of other knowledge systems. My own Nlaka’pamux tattooing tradition is connected to a larger visual and material cultural language system, consisting of but not limited to our pictographs, designs painted on clothing and our basketry designs. The revival of Indigenous tattooing traditions is also connected to traditional ecological knowledge in the form of traditional inks, tattooing tools and ceremonies. Many traditions including my own were connected to coming of age ceremonies and other spiritual practices, it is hoped that with the revival of our tattooing traditions many other aspects of our cultures will be uplifted and strengthened including the above mentioned other knowledge systems and many others including our language revitalization efforts. This project as it seeks to uplift the knowledge surrounding traditional Indigenous tattooing strengthens individual Indigenous peoples and whole communities.
The four participants:
Jeneen Frei Njootli
Jeneen Frei Njootli is a Vuntut Gwitchin artist, a member of the ReMatriate collective and sits on the Board of Directors of grunt gallery in Vancouver. She has worked as a performance artist, fashion designer, workshop facilitator, youth coordinator and has both lived and exhibited across Canada. Frei Njootli’s practice concerns itself with Indigeneity-in-politics, community engagement and productive disruptions. She is currently a grateful, uninvited guest on unceded Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam, Skwxwu7mesh territories, pursuing a Master of Fine Arts Degree at the University of British Columbia.
Check her out at:
Amy Malbeuf is a Métis visual artist from Rich Lake, Alberta, Canada. Malbeuf has exhibited her work nationally and internationally at such venues as the MacKenzie Art
Gallery, Regina; Kamloops Art Gallery, Kamloops; Contemporary Calgary; Kings ARI, Melbourne, Australia; and Stride Gallery, Calgary. Most recently Malbeuf exhibited at the Dunlop Art Gallery as part of Material Girls as well as in Future Station: Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Alberta. Malbeuf has participated in many international artist residencies including at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia; The Banff Centre, Alberta; The Labrador Research Institute, Labrador; and in 2015 was named one of two Canada Council for the Arts fellows at the Santa Fe Art Institute, New Mexico. Through utilizing the mediums of caribou hair tufting, beadwork, installation, and performance Malbeuf explores notions of identity, place, language, and ecology. Malbeuf lives and works in Kelowna where she is working towards a MFA from the University of British Columbia Okanagan.
Check her out at:
Jordan Bennett is a multi-disciplinary visual artist of Mi’kmaw heritage from Stephenville Crossing Newfoundland. Jordan has shown extensively in Canada and abroad, in venues such as The Museum of Art and Design,NYC, NY; Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Santa Fe, NM; Project Space Gallery, RMIT, Melbourne, AUS; ThePower Plant, Toronto, ON; Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal, Montreal, QC; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France;The Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver BC and most recently was one of two artists to represent Newfoundland and Labrador in the 2015 Venice Biennial at Galleria Ca’Rezzonico, Venice, Italy as part of the official Collateral Events. Jordan was recently long listed for the 2015 Sobey Art Award, presented with the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Councils Artist of the Year, received the Excellence in Visual Arts Newfoundlands’ Large Year Award, and named as one of the artists in the 2014 Blouin ARTINFO’s Top 30 under 30 in Canada.
His work is derived from a combination of observations and influences from historical and popular culture, new media, traditional craft, political issues, community and his own cultural practices. Through the processes of sculpture, digital media, installation, endurance performance, sound installation and various other mediums he strives to push boundaries and play with the ideas of re-appropriation, reclamation, participation and the artifact within traditional Indigenous and contemporary art forms. Jordan is currently undertaking a Masters degree at the University of British Columbia Okanagan exploring various mediums and concepts with a particular focus on exploring notions of the living artifact through Mi’kmaq and Beothuk visual culture.
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Dean Hunt is a Visual Artist and Music Producer from the Eagle Clan of the Heiltsuk Nation in Waglisla (Bella Bella). Dean under went a formal apprenticeship with his father Bradley Hunt and Older brother Shawn Hunt. He creates imaginative works from the strong base of his traditional arts and culture including: carving, painting, and jewelry. He uses the tools his ancestors fought to hold onto through times of hardship and oppression, not only in his more traditional art practices, but also in his contemporary use of sound. Dean studied Studio Engineering and Music Production at Columbia Academy in Vancouver, and has applied his skills as a music producer and DJ with the audio-visual collective, Skookum Sound System.
Notable Art Exhibitions include, The Vancouver Art Gallery “Shore,Forest, and Beyond: Art from the Michael Audain Collection,” Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art “Continuum: Vision and Creativity on the Northwest Coast,” Satellite Gallery “Cindy Sherman meets Dzunuk’wa: Art from the Michael & Inna O’brian Collection,” Exhibits regularly at “Spirit Wrestler”, “Inuit Gallery”, and the “Lattimer Gallery” Vancouver B.C.
Check him out at:
Each artist will be tattooing during this event and will be in need of willing participants to be tattooed, if you are interested in being tattooed by one of them please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are willing to assist in their development and training and your design idea fits their skill and comfort level and you are available during the residency we will return your message. Please put in the email heading Tattoo School Tattoo.
If you like more information on the Earth Line Tattooing Action referred to above please check it out here: