Indigenous Ink Tattoo and Arts Festival 2015: Part 1

I have been working on this post about Indigenous Ink 2015 for awhile and have decided since it is so long that I will post it in sections, enjoy part one.


Indigenous Ink Logo

In November of 2015 I travelled to the Maori, Pacific and Global Indigenous Tattoo Festival (Indigenous Ink) in Aotearoa held at the Manukau Station, Auckland New Zealand. This event took place on November 20th to the 22nd and featured over 30 Indigenous tattoo artists and cultural practitioners from across the globe. As stated in the document Press Kit put out by Maori, Pacific and Global Indigenous Tattoo Festival:

“Indigenous Ink is a living exhibition of artistic excellence in Indigenous tattoo. The event focuses on Indigenous tattoo practitioners and their art. Indigenous Ink raises the awareness of the historical, cultural and contemporary significance of Maori, Pacific and global Indigenous tattoo traditions.”

As an Indigenous tattoo artist and cultural tattoo practitioner when I think back to the beginning of my journey into the revival of Nlaka’pamux tattooing I always looked across the Pacific to New Zealand and the renaissance of Moko among the Maori. Inspiration and courage came from the voices, practices, and journeys of the many Pacific Island tattoo artists and cultural practitioners. Even though I had not met many of the people I considered my mentors and teachers in person it was their work, their, courage, their, journeys, that lead me to my revival efforts. I heard their words and stories through magazine articles, academic journals, documentaries, and TV shows. When I was invited to attend and participate in the Indigenous ink Tattoo and Arts festival as an invited artist I was overjoyed at the opportunity to finally travel to New Zealand.


As I wandered around Auckland New Zealand the week before Indigenous Ink checking out the tourist destinations I was struck by the large numbers of Maori walking around wearing Moko (Maori Tattoo), on their faces, arms, and legs. This is when I was reminded of the history of the almost complete decimation of Moko, and the Maori’s efforts to revive it. Seeing Moko around every turn inspired a dream, a vision of the city streets in North America. Streets filled with Indigenous peoples of every Nation and Tribe proudly wearing their ancestors ink. A symbol of who they are, where they come from and a connection to their ancestors. A mark which testifies to the resilience of us as Indigenous peoples, a declaration of our land rights, our fight and a declaration that we will always be here as a people.

One of my favourite attractions while in Auckland was the Art gallery and more specifically their collection of Maori portraits painted by Charles Goldie and Gottfried Lindauer. The detail and care that was put into these amazing portraits completely floored me. After purchasing the book “Goldie” from the art gallery book store was I made aware of the titles and the unfortunate underlying premise of Goldie’s work, which has plagued many academic disciplines including anthropology. Simply put as the documenting of a dying race, or documenting the relics of history.


As an invited indigenous tattoo artist from Canada it was a long journey to reach Aotearoa but the value of this event and my time spent in New Zealand cannot be measured. After a few days exploring Auckland on my own other artists began to arrive, the first group of artists included Elle-Mana Festin a Filipino tattoo artist and his assistant and travel companion Charphil from The Mark of the Four Waves Tribe accompanied by Mataih. As we sat down to eat at a food court on K-Road in Auckland I found this overwhelming sense of being among my people. As a cultural tattoo practitioner and Indigenous person my work and position in the tattoo industry is marginal and I am usually one of a handful of Indigenous tattoo artists at any given tattoo related event, but in this case I was at home.

Elle Festin and the Four Waves Tribe have been involved in the revival of Filipino tattooing for over 18 years, his work has been featured in many magazine articles and books including Kalinga Tattoo by Lars Krutak. As the story of his journey into the revival of Filipino tattoos began to unfold I was blown away by the amount work and dedication he has had over the years. I am grateful and honoured to call him my friend and colleague. It is through Elle that I was slowly introduced to many of the Indigenous tattoo artists on my trip.


Elle and Charphil at the Auckland Zoo

During that first meeting with Elle I was introduced to Matiah Maia Waiapu Koloamatangi a contemporary Indigenous artist who is influenced by her Maori, Tongan and Scandinavian heritage. It was during this first meeting that I felt I had found my tattoo family, among other Indigenous tattoo artists, this was not the last time I felt this way during my trip. Shortly after this meeting I was introduced to Pip Hartley of Karanga Ink in Auckland New Zealand, she skilfully crafts elegant Polynesian designs that flow and fit the body. I was lucky enough to receive one of her pieces during my trip and can’t wait to complete our trade the next time I see her.


Me Getting Tattooed by Pip Hartley

Over the next few days I would continue visiting many Auckland tourist attractions accompanied by Elle and Charphil including the Auckland Zoo and Auckland Museum. It was a very informative and enjoyable experience wondering through the glass cases which displays the museum collections especially those that contain the tattooing implements from across the Pacific. We discussed the different lengths, styles and Elle educated me on his ancestors tattooing practice of tapping.


Elle and I at the Auckland Museum

After a full day of checking out the city we took a trip to visit with New Zealand tattoo legend Steve Ma Ching. Who graciously took time to chat with us in the middle of completing a back piece on a client who flew in from Germany. He regaled us with stories from his amazing career and we all left with stomachs sore from laughter.


During these first few days we stopped by the new shop of the House of Natives in Auckland and I meet another New Zealand tattoo legend Gordon Toi.


I first became familiar with Gordon as I started my research into Indigenous tattoo revival in a global sense as I watched the PBS show Skin Stories.

Check out him out in this clip on YouTube

To be continued…

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