The Creation and Presentation of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

In my last post outlining this exciting project dated December 3rd, 2019 I stated that I would be exploring the travel I would be doing during this project to conventions and tattoo festivals. I just realized it would not make sense for me to explore that portion of my project without first presenting Nlaka’pamux Blackwork first. 

Nlaka'pamux Blackwork Chest Tattoo

First Nlaka’pamux Blackwork Design. Chest piece.

I am excited to present to you my vision for the innovation of Nlaka’pamux visual language in the form of the creation of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork. The experience of tattooing for ten years, being a leader in the revival of Indigenous tattooing in Canada since 2012, and mentoring over twenty Indigenous people to bring back tattooing in their communities has led me to consider what more I can do for the world of tattooing. A further outcome of this research and grant is my answer to this question. This grant will allow me the time to translate Nlaka’pamux visual language into the creation of Nlaka’pamux tattoo bodysuits, full sleeves, back and chest pieces. Body suits are tattoos that cover the entire body or at least the entire torso. Research would include an exploration of how our visual language can be stretched to fit the curvature and movement of the human form. The result will be an innovation through the creation of a contemporary interpretation of Nlaka’pamux tattooing that mixes aesthetics from historic Japanese and contemporary tribal and blackwork tattooing genres. I will not be using Japanese motifs or designs, only the aesthetic of the complete coverage of the body with a tattoo. Blackwork tattooing is a contemporary style of tattooing that uses big sections of black in its designs. The aesthetic components from this genre of tattooing will ensure that Nlaka’pamux Blackwork body suits and designs can be read from across the room. 

First Exploration of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork Done in 2015.

IOTA Institute provided funding and support for the third Earthline Tattoo Training Residency held in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Earthline’s connection with IOTA spurred an interest in me to begin exploring the idea of my contemporary Nlaka’pamux tattooing practice and its relationship to Bio Art. My work and research up to this point has been acutely focused on traditional Nlaka’pamux tattooing and its revival. This move to the creation of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork will allow me the time to consider new questions. Questions, like how does the reality of Indigenous peoples, who live in politicized bodies enter into contemporary Indigenous tattooing? What role, if any does, Indigenous tattooing entering into the academic conversation around, “Body Projects”? Simply put, “Body Projects” are contemporary individuals manipulations of their bodies to fit idealized standards set through advertising and the consumer culture. The curatorial mentorship of IOTA Institute would allow me to explore questions like these and more as a by-product of the creation of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork and development of my contemporary tattooing practice.

The creation of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork as an innovation and evolution of Nlaka’pamux tattooing is an answer to the question; how do we share this ancestral, cultural embodied artistic practice with those who are not Nlaka’pamux? I have been considering this question for a long time as I have been asked to share the tattoo revival work I have been involved in. I feel that transforming the use of our visual language into a contemporary tattoo aesthetic is moving in the right direction. This will allow me to continue the work of reviving our tattooing tradition while at the same time creating a new manifestation of what once was. It is an evolution of my own personal protocol on who can get what tattooed using our designs and motifs. It will also allow me to honor the revival of our ancestral tradition and allow it to blossom in community and not be threatened by its use outside the community context. This will be accomplished by leaving historic designs in the traditional placement for community members and the development of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork for use within or outside of the community.  The Maori have developed similar practices to keep some designs, motifs, placements, and combinations of designs reserved for Maori. Kirituhi is a whole genre of Maori tattooing that has been created for non-Maori to enjoy the aesthetic properties of Moko without sharing the most sacred parts. 

Traditional Nlaka’pamux Skin Stitch and Handpoke Tattoos

I have shared the project I am describing in this grant with the IOTA Institute, who has expressed interest in supporting my work. One potential idea that has been explored is IOTA hosting me for a residency to offer uninterrupted and focused time and space to explore, experiment and create. The support they have also expressed interest in is support in the promotion and dissemination of research outcomes from this project.

During the beginning exploratory phases of this process, I will be posting ideas, drafts, and potential bodysuits to social media to incite interest in the potential of this new embodied Nlaka’pamux Blackwork tattoo genre. I have begun the potential recruitment of collaborators willing to be tattooed with Nlaka’pamux Blackwork for this project and have gained considerable interest. 

Second Nlaka’pamux Blackwork Chest Piece Design.

I will be creating six bodysuit designs, ten full sleeve designs, five back pieces and five chest pieces. These designs will be drawn and or painted on life size canvases and or mannequins. After I have created these designs, I will be working with those community members already committed to receiving Nlaka’pamux Blackwork tattoos and will be putting a call out for further collaborators who will have these bodysuits tattooed upon them.

Over the course of this project, I would like to tattoo at least four bodysuits, four sleeves, and two each of the chest and back pieces. If you re interested in receiving a Nlaka’pamux Blackwork tattoo, send me a email at

Beginning with the research, designing, and creation of these bodysuits, I will have a professional videographer document the process from beginning to end. The documentation of creation, the finished paintings, and/or mannequins will be edited, and stills will be captured in combination with full size photographs of each bodysuit to create an exhibition. There is also the possibility of finishing tattooing one of the body suits during the exhibition itself, this would involve having one of the collaborators/ tattooees receiving the bodysuit at the exhibition. Large format photographs of each of the bodysuits, sleeves, and chest and back pieces will be part of this exhibition alongside the canvas paintings and sketches from the creation process, as well as the mannequins. An edited video will be included in this exhibition including interviews from each of the collaborators and myself exploring the project and the rational for developing Nlaka’pamux Blackwork.

I do not have a gallery or exhibition space set for this exhibition but will be seeking our a space during the final stages of this project.

Through a residency and curatorial mentorship with IOTA Institute there is the potential to begin a research component of this project that explores alternative ways of viewing the “design.” In many exhibitions and displays of tattoos and tattooing, the embodied subject, the human being who wears the tattoo, “design,” is disembodied. I have had preliminary conversation with Mireille Bourgeois about my new work and its potential to start new conversations that have not been explored from an Indigenous perspective and or through tattooing.

Thank you for taking the time to explore this exciting project with me.

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

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