Week One of the Earth Line Tattoo Training Residency Part 1
The first two weeks of the Earth Line Tattoo Training Residency have been absolutely mind blowing as I have been able to hear the stories of the artists in attendance Dean Hunt, Jeneen Frei Njootli, Amy Malbeuf and Jordan Bennett. These two blog posts will contain a run down of the activities and some of the lessons learned and shared over the first week and another to follow outlining the second week.
The Earth Line Tattoo Training Residency is happening as part of and running concurrently with the The Summer Indigenous Art Intensive Program which is coordinated by the Creative Studies Department at the the University of British Columbia Okanagan. It is an amazing program and this year is hosting “a core group of senior artists: Rebecca Belmore, Lori Blondeau, David Garneau, and Adrian Stimson. It will also include upward of 20 visiting studio artists in residence.”
Check out more information here: http://fccs.ok.ubc.ca/programs/summer.html
Throughout the duration of the Indigenous Arts Intensive they will be sharing their work and progress through a blog at: http://rmooc.ca
I am thankful for the support of the Creative Studies department in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies and the support of the Equity and Enhancement Fund at the University of British Columbia.
I began the Earth Line Tattoo Training Residency with an emphasis on two main premises, the first, that the revival of Indigenous tattooing begins as one of the rights as described in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), specifically article eleven section one, which states:
“Indigenous peoples have the right to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.”
Tattooing was practiced by almost every Indigenous nation across Canada and the world. The revival of cultural tattooing works on many levels for indigenous peoples and signifies many different narratives, identity of self as Indigenous as Maori as Samoan as Yupik, Inuit, Nlaka’pamux etc. Also as a political statement, as an affirmation of the historical struggle our ancestor went through to insure we are still Nlaka’pamux, as an anchor of self in culture, a reclaiming of the body from the commoditization of the consumer culture, a reclaiming of the body from the colonial machinery which seeks to control Indigenous peoples identity through legislation. With the legal clumping together of indigenous peoples under the Indian act, cultural expressions of tattooing can help indigenous peoples feel separate and distinct.
The second premise is that we have a responsibility too share our gifts with those who need them. It is from these two places that my own work has arisen from and is the beginning of this project.
On Monday June 20th we gathered together at the Center for Indigenous Media Arts on the University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus and shared with each other who we are, where we come from and why we are each involved in this pilot project. During this first day we explored the background for this project as it has arisen out of a larger Indigenous movement around cultural revitalization. I shared with the artists some of the inspirational quotes and teachings from my own journey and we watched some short video clips from the many Indigenous cultural practitioners and tattoo artists I look up to and call my mentors. Many of these folks I have never met in person, however I have gained valuable teachings from them through their words and actions as documented in journal and magazine articles, documentary films, television programs and YouTube videos.
One of the quotes that inspired me and many of the artists was that of L. Frank which can be found in the article Marks Across time, by Rachel Uranga:
Five years ago, Frank, a 49-year-old artist, walked into a tattoo parlor in hopes “of holding hands with the past,” and left with a piece of her culture.” Some people think I am a radical,” she says. “These tattoos make waves; it says we are not extinct”… At night, in her dreams, the lines dance into the past and reach out to long-buried members of her ancestral tribes, the Tongva and Ajachmen… “After I got the tattoos, there was an emotional change…I felt responsible, a responsibility for my ancestors”…“People nowadays are like detached seaweeds—they don’t have a root,” Frank says. “But when blood calls you, it is too strong to deny”…“I just thought the physical (marking) would happen,” she says. “I would just get the tattoo and that would be it. But it marked me in an eternal way”…“It has to do with being correct in the eyes of my ancestor,” she says. “For me, (the tattoos) are a way of holding hands with my sisters, my aunties, my grandmother, through time” (http://topcat4.tripod.com/news/27aug01.txt).
This quote and the teachings of L. Frank have inspired me and this is an oil painting I have done as part of my Masters thesis project that honours her contribution to my journey.
Another quote which the resident artists found inspiring is one found in the paper by Linda Waimarie Nikora et al, Renewal and Resistance: Moko in Contemporary New Zealand:
“As an indigenous people, re-taking moko confronts and refutes the myth of a ‘dying race’. It calls Maori to recommit to strong Maori identities, customs and traditions and challenges the viewer to re-examine their social representations of moko and moko wearers (477)”.
The next quote also found in Renewal and Resistance: Moko in Contemporary New Zealand is one that has inspired me without measure.
“Moko is about reclaiming a lost toango (treasure)-a part of us that was taken away through the process of colonization, almost to extinction. It’s my external way in showing that I’m proud to be Maori (Aneta). (488).
One of the quotes that resonated with many of the artists comes from the voice of tattoo artist Aisea Toetu’u from Tonga who shares how difficult it is to begin such a project:
“It’s hard to learn anything about something that’s been sleeping so long. I was trying to wake it up…It taught me about the political movement in our country. Maybe that’s why it died out. Maybe because of Christianity, because maybe tattooing was such a powerful, spiritual thing for our people that they had to wipe it out, that they had to get rid of it…Some of it is destroyed, but we find the bits and pieces and put it together…The main thing is that they accepted it. At first it was like a stranger. But when they saw it, people understood it somehow. Elders came down from the village when we were tattooing at the middle of town to see us tap. They wanted to see the method one more time. It was like a rebirth. (Skin and Ink September 2011, 37-41)”.
After an exploration of four pages of quotes which these few have been chosen from we continued to explore the larger context of Indigenous tattoo revival by watching clips from YouTube and other sources. I will include a few of these here for you to explore.
This first video is one containing a conversation with Keone Nunes a cultural tattoo practitioner in Hawaii, and I have find many teachings in this video around the reasons for revival and the use of traditional tattooing methods.
It is from this video that explores the significance of traditional tattooing for our generation and the generations to come and the responsibility that we have as cultural tattoo practitioners that all of the participants found inspiration.
The work of Gordon has been an inspiration to me beginning with the first time I watched this documentary Skin Stories made for PBS.
This short mini documentary on the work of Sulu’ape Steve Looney in the series Art Talk by VICE really began to help me make the connection between Indigenous diaspora, identity and the power of tattooing to root and connect people with their culture and their heritage.
The story of Manu Neho and her story of rebirth is one that always resonates with my own experience of moving from my time as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor to my work of revitalization and decolonization.
The sharing of the traditional tapping method has helped in the revival of this method through out Polynesia and it is the example of the Samoan Sulu’apes that I gain an understanding of my responsibility to share my gifts.
As Sonny shared his story in this short mini documentary about his journey into being tattooed in Samoa I am reminded of the devastating struggle many Indigenous youth have as they travel in this world, and the story of his attempted suicide reminds me of why these traditions must return so that we do not loose anymore to the struggle. One of my constant inspirations for this work of revival is the loss of one of my own young friends and it was at his funeral that I knew I had to do something to anchor our youth in a sense of themselves. It is from that feeling of wishing I could have done something more that I find strength.
The work of professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku especially in the book Mau Moko which she co-authored with Linda Waimarie Nikora is a book that makes me constantly renewed when I feel down and frustrated, as this work is at times challenging, with pressures from all directions.
George Nuku and Rosanna Raymond share the power of the experience and the beauty of the stories connected to Maori and Samoan tattooing traditions.
After watching all of these videos and exploring the four pages of quotes we had a lengthy discussion about how these things inspired the artists and what they got from listening to these teachers.
This blog post is turning out way longer than I anticipated, so I will have to split it into two and post it within the next few days.