True Tribal: Contemporary Expressions of Ancestral Tattoo Practices
Julie Paama-Pengelly (Maori). Photo: Ecko Aleck.

True Tribal: Contemporary Expressions of Ancestral Tattoo Practices

Museum of Vancouver, Vancouver, BC - Ongoing

by Michael Turner

Tattooing is a cross-cultural practice that has been around since time immemorial. Until recently, popular cultural notions of tattooing were invested less in the sacred than in the profane, owing as much to white cultural hegemony as they did to non-conformity and deviant behaviour. Today, even the most anti-social skull is counterbalanced with a loved one’s name over an arrow-pierced heart. We know more about tattoos than we ever did, enough that some of them are given and can never be bought.

True Tribal gathers together 30 years of Indigenous tattooing from around the world through the work of eight artists exploring ancestral designs and motifs—from their place in ceremonial protocols to new methods of implementation to the relationship of these practices to the reclamation of land, language and identity. The artists in the exhibition are Tristen Jenni Sanderson (Woodland and Plains Cree), Terje Koloamatanga (Tongan), Nolan Malbeuf (Métis), Mo-Naga (Uipo Naga), Julie Paama-Pengelly (Māori), Gordon Sparks (Mi’kmaq), Nathalie Standingcloud (Cherokee) and Dion Kaszas (Nlaka’pamux).

Materially, the exhibition features projections, portraits of those who have sat for tattoos, cultural belongings that act as a three-dimensional visual dictionary for the markings, blood impression paintings, and an augmented reality component in the form of an app, whereby visitors can view tattoo designs created by the exhibiting artists. True Tribal was co-curated by Dion Kaszas and Mireille Bourgeois in collaboration with the curatorial team at the Museum of Vancouver, drawing from its collection of cultural belongings. The project is co-managed by IOTA Institute, a Nova Scotia–based art collective and creative agency.

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