Researching and Writing about Nlaka’pamux Visual Culture

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

Last week I shared with you the exciting news that I have been awarded a Canada Council of the Arts Long Term Project grant. This week I share with you what the first project attached to this grant will be. Beginning in my undergraduate degree I have been obsessed with writing and theorizing about the work that I do in the revival of Indigenous Tattooing. This obsession has brought me to successfully defending my masters thesis entitled, “Embodying the Past in the Present for the Future: Practicing, Supporting, and Highlighting Indigenous Tattoo Revivals Through Indigenous and Creative Research Methodologies.” And writing a handful of essays and for exhibition catalogues and festival pamphlets. The first project that I will undertake as part of, “Taking Nlaka’pamux Tattooing to the World,” will include research and writing. 

Canadian Museum of History Nlaka’pamux Cape

Many of the visual cultural objects that inhabited my ancestor’s landscape have vanished from our everyday lives. The ancestral visual legacy that my ancestors left behind is currently housed in museum and art gallery collections across the globe, hidden from my heart, mind, and vision. Since 2012, I have visited numerous local and regional museum collections, and documented many baskets, articles of clothing, and visual and material objects. I have also done extensive reading and archival research about my ancestral visual language as well as out on the land discovering and re-discovering rock art sites, which contain pictographs and petroglyphs. 

Pictograph Site

Funding for this project will allow me the time and ability to visit and re-visit my ancestral visual and material culture in the multitude of locations it is housed. This will strengthen my tattooing and artistic practice greatly because our visual culture and tattooing is not well documented. I can not see these objects in books or academic journal articles and the photographic documentation provided in digital databases does not give a sense of three-dimensional form and movement around the basket or clothing. In viewing the actual objects, I will get a greater sense of how the designs contained on the objects will translate into tattooing designs. Visiting these cultural objects will broaden my understanding of my ancestral artistic legacy and provide more inspiration for future manifestations of Nlaka’pamux tattooing, including the creation of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork.

The collections which house my ancestral artistic legacy include, but are not limited to, the Canadian Museum of History, Museum of Archaeology, Royal BC Museum, American Museum of Natural History, and National Museum of the American Indian.  James Teit (who wrote the booklet “Tattooing Face and Body Painting of the Thompson Indians (Nlaka’pamux) and Harlan Smith, an archaeologist, both deposited large collections of Nlaka’pamux visual and material culture in each of these collections. I would like to not only visit the artefact collections but also the acquisition notes for the artefacts in the archives. 

After spending considerable time in museum and archive collections and working on my master’s thesis, I see a need for an Nlaka’pamux and Interior Salish visual dictionary as a resource for the coming generations. This visual dictionary will act as a quick reference resource for me and for Nlaka’pamux tattooing in the future, as well as for Nlaka’pamux and Interior Salish artists and cultural practitioners today and into the future.

Next week I will share with you the exciting new project I will be undertaking as part of this grant, the creation of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork.

See you next week.

I acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

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