FROM STINGING PAIN TO STUNNING PATTERNS

The Kalinga from the Philippines show their painted skin on large portraits at the exhibition GREY IS THE NEW PINK. Their tattoos are more than artworks on the body, they function as identity-shaping symbols, beautification and remaining memories that stay a lifetime and beyond.

Tattoos are a source of embodied memory which, quite literally, goes under the skin. In this sense, tattooed skin can be compared with a diary – a personal testimony and a lasting image of how we lived our lives: of our lives and our life stories. The practices of scarification and tattooing are widespread from Madagascar to the Malay Archipelago and New Guinea and across the entire western Pacific region. This is especially true of the Polynesian islands. From there, the word ‘tattoo’ came into English. The Polynesian word tatau means to strike, a reference to the basic technique of tattooing.

In his work, American anthropologist and photographer Lars Krutak focuses on the cultural practice  of tattooing.  For thousands of years, many cultures have regarded tattooing as a cultural expression of the process of becoming, being  and  living.

In his portrait series “The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga” Philippine artist Jake Verzosa records the vanishing tradition of tattooing women in the mountainous Kalinga region. There, the 97­year­old Whang­Od is the last traditional woman tattoo artist (mambabatok). Among the Kalinga, the cultural practice of these distinctive tattoos is an expression of beauty, and they have always been a strong element in their identity. The women say that while all their necklaces and jewellery are removed after their death, their tattoos remain for eternity.

Furthermore, visitors can inspect the tatauing tools that have been used in Polynesia since around 600 B.C. In Polynesia, the traditional tools for tattooing usually consist of a comb­ like bone with sharp teeth, often connected to a turtle shell plate, with both parts tied to a wooden handle. The tattooist uses a wooden mallet to tap the pig­ment, made from burnt lama nut, into the skin. The patterns, comprising symbols alluding to particular mytho­logical figures or events, often stretch from the hips down the thighs. In some cultures, they also cover the entire body including, for example in New Zealand, the face.