Posts tagged ‘Tattoo’


Whilst I was in Suva last month, project managing / co-curating The Veiqia Project and the important process of embedding and grounding the project in Fiji, I started to tune into how many people were asking for meaning, as in digestible translations of the visual vocabulary of Fijian qia or tattoo markings.

The Veiqia Project is a creative research project that has engaged seven Fijian artists to uncover, encounter and respond to the practice of Fijian female tattooing through museum visits, dialogue and literature. Four of the seven artists were able to travel to Fiji to undertake research, talks and meetings and spend time with Melanesian tatu practitioner Julia Mage’au Gray (Papua New Guinea – Australia), who has been researching and reviving tatu practice from Central Province, Papua New Guinea, and developing understanding of its wider relationship to tattoo practice across Oceania.

We came across some fascinating illustrations of qia motifs and designs in the Fiji Museum library. They were recorded in the late 1800s and said to be from the province of Ra. Whilst some notes were made on what the motifs represented (from the perspective of the non-Fijian author), it feels as if meaning associated with this visual language is not something we will ever fully understand.

The artists are working hard, excavating the social, cultural, artistic contexts of the practice of veiqia / Fijian tattooing. And it’s here, meaning is made; they will each interpret their experience of uncovering  knowledge about our cultural heritage as Fijian women into new work, and it’s hoped that the exhibition will tour, evolving to include more Fijian artists and communities.

I was tattooed over the weekend by Julia in Auckland at Big Willie Legacy Barber & Tattoo Studio. She marked both my arms and hands with qia motifs and symbols we encountered in Fiji. For me, the meaning of these marks is related to revival and memory, Fijian art history and the power and prestige of an artform reserved exclusively for women and girls. These tattoos are part of my identity as a Fijian woman, as an artist, as a Melanesian. The meaning of my marks in 2015 is mine; they sit between you and me, perception and reality, art and context…

I woke up yesterday thinking, of all my tattoos, these are my most important marks. They challenge ideas about beauty and aesthetics, history and colonisation, gender and power; they visualise my position, and galvanise my love and loyalty for Fiji.

Writing media releases is not a strength of mine. I’ve had the privilege of working with some excellent marketing heads in the past; they’ve taken my words and created digestible, broad appeal information that gives mainstream mana to projects which generally sit comfortably within the margins.

Producing a series of exhibitions in a non-conventional, central Auckland commercial space, with an agenda of selling art and engaging broad and diverse audiences, on a minimal budget, has forced me out of my comfort zone. These exhibitions couldn’t exist ‘comfortably within the margins’; they needed to be translated, positioned, re-valued… or did they?

As the PIMPI Winter Series has rolled out, the deeper purpose and complexity of what I set out to do has revealed itself to me day by day, online and off, in conversations and silent observations. In this space between commerce and creativity, the perceived margins and the centre, where skin is marked and hair is cut, the exhibitions are encountered largely unintentionally by wandering eyes, passers by, social media followers and waiting mates, spouses and children.

Partner in the PIMPI Winter Series, and owner of Big Willie Legacy Barber & Tattoo Studio, Stan Lolohea, has challenged and invigorated my thinking at every stage. Outside of the conventions of an art gallery, who are these shows for? And does increasing the net of general awareness create more genuine interest? Does an exhibition grow the scope, care and engagement between audiences, groups… does it facilitate understanding, conversation and debate across class, race, gender divides?


I’ve found producing these exhibitions so completely refreshing, a total love-project with no funding, but built on the back of a strong forgiving partnership (vinaka vakalevu Stan), and carried by my family, who have shared the load (malo ‘aupito Taka, Si’i, Lini, Tu’i). I had found myself working from funding round to funding round, writing late night proposals, planning, pitching, failing… I needed to get back to the grassroots of what I love to do and flex my curatorial muscle.

DIY curating is a full To Do list most days, but the hosting, promo, multiple trips to Warehouse Stationary, the framers, finding excellent deals on good wine, getting my earth-thrills from using corn-based bioplastic cups… I’ve loved it all! But mostly, it has been a privilege to gently hustle these 12 talented and clever artists, facilitating sales for many of them, instigating new work and fresh thinking.

I’m grateful for the partnerships, support and online engagement that has pushed out the potential of these shows. To those who have bought work – thank you, and to those who have given their time and skills: Lana Lopesi, Ralph Brown, Sean Atavenitia for South Auckland Photography, Sangeeta Singh, Leilani Kake – I’m deeply grateful. Thanks also to the residents of Big Willie Legacy Barber & Tattoo Studio, Duss, Damian and Willy – I’ve been totally inspired watching you work!

The Private Views / Opening receptions for the PIMPI Winter Series have been too cool. Eclectic, diverse audiences… family, friends, colleagues, locals, South Aucklanders too! To those who travel from near and far to support these artists – thank you so much! It means a lot. Check out this badass video by South Auckland Photography:


Here’s an interview Stan and I did with Radio New Zealand reporter, Justin Gregory, aired on Friday 7 August:


And there’s still ONE MORE SHOW to go!

Please join us from 6pm on Thursday 27 August at Big Willie Legacy Barber & Tattoo Studio, 159 Mt Eden Road, central Auckland to mark the opening of Know what I mean, jellybean? featuring new and recent work by Leilani Kake, Niutuiatua Lemalu, Waiora Palalagi and Pati Solomona Tyrell – all work is for sale!

Click-Click-Follow on Instagram and Facebook for real time happenings!

A post about a new Nike print based on tattoo design from Fiji, New Zealand and Samoa caused Facebook blood to boil this past week. Many thought it to be blatant appropriation and that a massive global brand like Nike should be in some way paying for the rights to use the designs.

In NikeBlog‘s description, the countries are acknowledged as sources of the design concept and tattoo design is even relatively well aligned within the context of this skin-tight range. It would be awesome if a proportion of the profits made from the sale of this range could be invested in development projects in the source countries, but crediting individuals, clans, villages, regions or even countries for each motif would surely be a political, cultural and artistic minefield.

I don’t want to endorse Nike in any way, but I would wear most things in this range. For me, it would be about wearing something with cultural relevance to who I am and where I come from, but also that our tattoo has always worked to emphasise and complement the curves and bends of the body and this range would do that for even the curviest of Nesian forms. However, it is possible that like many of the more funky Nike pants, sizing will not exceed Large and the big girls will be stuck in boring black. Mehh.

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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