Posts tagged ‘Fijian Tattoo’

Visiting Auckland Museum store room, photograph by Sangeeta Singh11 September, 2015 – Suva, FIJI – Four Fijian New Zealand and Australian based women artists will congregate in Suva, Fiji next week for a creative research project inspired by the practice of Fijian female tattooing. This is the first time a research project is being undertaken to delve into the lost tradition of Fijian female tattooing of veiqia.

The Veiqia Project has gathered seven contemporary Fijian women artists engaged in Australia and New Zealand to participate in shared research activities and Museum visits to inform the development of new artwork for an exhibition due to take place in Auckland, New Zealand in March 2016. At its heart, The Veiqia Project involves nine Fijian women – seven artists and two curators – on a journey of artistic and cultural enquiry.

Four of the seven artists will travel to Suva from the 14th to 28th September to undertake research, meetings and participate in events.

New Zealand-based artists Margaret Aull, Joana Monolagi and Luisa Tora will join Australian-based Dulcie Stewart on the trip. Project and exhibition curators Tarisi Vunidilo and Ema Tavola, both proud i-taukei women from the province of Kadavu are excited about the prospects of their research in Fiji.

Through a shared online research forum and time spent with Fijian collections at museums in Australia, Fiji and New Zealand, the artists have generated an indigenous research archive driven by personal, artistic and relational connections. The project has drawn significant support from Auckland Museum, Fiji Museum, the Fijian Art Project, practitioners, supporters, friends and family engaged both on and offline.

“Fijian women used to have a very proud ancient tradition of veiqia, where girl children were tattooed when they reached puberty. This tradition has been lost over time due to colonization and other factors. Veiqia has intrigued many of us for a long time and we are very excited to come back home to Fiji to research more about this ancient art and to discuss and share with other Fijians their views and stories about this once practiced art”, Ms. Tavola said.

“We are grateful to Creative New Zealand for significant funding towards this research enabling us to bring our Fijian women artists together to collaborate on this project”, she added.

“We are inviting everyone to come to our organised events to share with us in story- telling and talanoa about our traditions and research that we hope one day will be revived. Come and take ownership of discussions surrounding this ancient female artform”, she said.

The artists will hold a Veiqia panel discussion at the FNU campus on Thursday, 17th September and an open day on Saturday, 19th September at the Fiji Museum Veranda and will include visitations to artists at Tagimoucia Gallery, Fiji Corrections Unit, Suva and dialogue with Fijian tattooist Billy Blaze.

Please see below for more details on the exhibition, visit or contact Tarisi Vunidilo 7517241 for more information.

The Veiqia Project: Panel Discussion

Hear from the curators and artists behind a creative project that connects artists, Museum collections and Fijian tattoo.
Speakers: Margaret Aull, Joana Monolagi, Dulcie Stewart, Ema Tavola, Luisa Tora, Tarisi Vunidilo with guest speaker Julia Maga’au Gray

Date: Thursday 17 September, 2015
Time: 6 – 8pm
Venue: FNU Campus Raiwai, Carpenter Street
Enquiries: Theresa Koroi, ph: 9987150, email:

The Veiqia Project: Investigating our tattooed histories

Come and learn about the research The Veiqia Project has uncovered, watch Melanesian tatu artist Julia Mage’au Gray demonstrate traditional hand-poke tattoo style, get involved with fun art activities, hear from The Veiqia Project artists and the ways Museum collections can inspire new understandings of our Pacific art histories.

Date: Saturday 19 September, 2015
Time: 10am – 3pm
Venue: Fiji Museum Veranda

Image credit: Sangeeta Singh, with permission from Auckland Museum

I designed this tattoo with a friend and fellow creative, Margaret Aull – she had it tattooed to mark 100 nights after her late grandmother passed away. It was a massively rewarding process of collaboration to develop this design but has challenged my thinking around cultural purism, motifs and mana.

In Aotearoa, there are quite well-defined protocols around Maori tattoo; language and imagery for tattoo worn by Maori, and those worn by others. Within the context of [post]-colonial cultural renaissance, tattoo perhaps has heightened meaning; ownership, intellectual property, belief systems and political affiliations are all part of the social baggage of wearing culturally specific tattoo. It’s a bit different in the Pacific…

Margaret wanted to design something to reflect her Fijian heritage which she traces through her father; his mother, Margaret’s late grandmother, was a significant portal to Fiji for Margaret and her passing inspired reflection and a desire to pay homage to her Fijian ancestry.

Masi (Fijian bark cloth) motifs were the starting point for this design. I sketched a wide range of motifs and also researched how contemporary Fijian tattooists interpret masi motifs into contemporary compositions. I read about the bold stylistic characteristics of masi from various parts of Fiji, and began to feel that direct references to the motifs would discredit the meaning and mana of the tattoo I wanted to create because my practice, and Margaret’s whakapapa do not necessarily relate to the people and places where these motifs have originated.

I knew the design would be a composition of abstract references – literal, symbolic and simplified.

I wanted to relate to Margaret’s role in her family, the eldest grandchild. I wanted to honour the matriarchal role of her late grandmother, the migration and relocation of her family as well as her mixed ancestry.

I’ve referenced the form of the Fijian war canoe navigational mast head (domodomo). It is bold and black; it felt like an important thing for Margaret to see in her daily life – a symbol of navigating your way forward, knowing you can always go ‘home’, knowing that navigation takes leadership and strength of conviction. I had always loved the way the mast head has been stylised in Fijian contemporary commercial design. The one I drew was a stylised interpretation.

I thought about the ‘V’ form which is evident in early colonial illustrations of Fijian women’s tattoos. Only Fijian women were tattooed, not men; here, the ‘V’ form is a distinctly feminine reference. The form is composed of smaller stylised ‘V’ forms which are also like the shape of the sail on a Fijian canoe. The ‘V’ itself is not dissimilar to the formation in which large masses of birds fly, and is also a warring / combat formation. In this design, it is foundational, i.e. it roots the form.

Connecting the mast head and the ‘V’ is a series of visual references to Fijian masi design elements – the triangle, cross, seru form and chevron. Their composition is similar to the way in which motifs are stenciled on the border of a masi kesa. Perhaps in a subtle way, this is my effort to bring that which dwells in the margins, into the centre. A personal take on the marginalisation of the mixed race / diaspora / language-less sectors of Fijian society who are by no fault of their own, culturally marginalised.

I wear one tattoo inspired by traditional Fijian tattoo design, but the rest of my tattoos are very contemporary ways to acknowledge my Fijian heritage. I spoke about Fijian tattooing briefly in a recent interview on Radio 531pi’s Fijian language show, Na Domo i Viti e Aotearoa hosted by Nemai Vucago. I’m interested in the increased visibility of contemporary Fijian tattoo and massive popularity of Fiji-based tattooist, Tony Qumi’s Facebook community.

Collaborating on Margaret’s new tattoo was an awesome experience, seeing its application and considering the weightiness of being part of this process has been inspiring and humbling.

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