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Ink tales of the Pacific told at major conference

Ink tales of the Pacific told at major conference

The links tattoos have created over both time and thousands of kilometres of land and sea between Europe and the Pacific are to be explored at a major conference to be held at Victoria University next week.

Researchers from around the world will congregate at the University from 21-23 August to discuss progress on a global project on Pacific tattooing, led by Professor Nicholas Thomas of Goldsmiths College, University of London. The project is funded by the grants from the Getty Grant Programme, the Arts and Humanities Research Board (UK) and Goldsmiths College, University of London.

The conference, Tatau/Tattoo: Embodied Art and Cultural Exchange 1760-2000, will be hosted by Victoria's Art History and Pacific Studies programmes. The conference will also include a team of Mâori scholars engaged in another major research project on ta moko, under the direction of Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku of the University of Waikato.

Peter Brunt, of Victoria’s Art History Programme, will be part of the Getty-funded global project, writing on the tattooing of New Zealand artist Tony Fomison by tufuga ta tatau (tattoo master) Su’a Suluape Paulo II. Sean Mallon, Curator History, Pacific, at the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, will speak on The Art of the 'Au: Samoan Tatau as Global Practice.

In addition to scholarly presentations, the conference will feature an artists’ forum where representatives from dance, literature and visual art will speak about the influence that tattooing has on their work. Dancer/choreographer Neil Ieremia of Black Grace, writer Sia Figiel, visual artist Fatu Feu’u, and writer and filmmaker, Makerita Urale are among the featured participants.

Coinciding with the conference, the University's Adam Art Gallery Te Pâtaka Toi will open an exhibition on contemporary Samoan tattooing, featuring photographs by Mark Adams and a film work by Lisa Taouma.

"This research is an important study of the role of tattooing in cross-cultural exchange between Pacific peoples and others, and amongst Pacific peoples themselves,” says April Henderson, Lecturer in Pacific Studies and co-organiser of the conference. “Pacific tattoos can be deeply significant, but the meanings attached to them can be quite flexible and open to the interpretations of those giving and receiving them. This conference will provide a forum to explore some of those meanings.”

Eighteenth century voyages to the Pacific brought Europeans into contact with tattooing. Many returned home with drawings of the designs they saw and sometimes with tattoos themselves. Missionaries, who followed the explorers and traders, sought to put an end to tattooing, and for this reason, the passing down of skills and designs was interrupted with dire consequences for the tradition.

Pacific tattooing is again attracting global attention, largely due to the significant revivals of tattooing in Hawai’i, Aotearoa, and French Polynesia and the rich continuing tattoo traditions of Samoa. Contemporary Mâori tattoo designs are beamed around the world courtesy of pop stars like Robbie Williams and Ben Harper who have them.

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