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For the last 100 years, tattooing hasn’t adapted. It just kind of stopped. Right now, tattooing is kind of a form of healing, after all the traumas that we’ve been through as Inuit people – with the disease, assimilation, education and this colonized society that we live in now.[1]

In times of global dominance of the West and the peak of capitalism, it is no wonder that a certain idea of tattooing is propagated as the one truth within the field. Paradoxically, this truth implies the most diverse views and practices from various (traditional) contexts and puts them together in a collage, which erased all the original roots of its different pieces, becoming the face of the dominant contemporary industry. To fight these power structures, people try to win back their connections and interpretations of tattooing as an emancipatory tool. This propagates not a back-to-the-roots-attitude, which would catapult protests to the past, but brings traditions to our present and interweaves them with contemporary ideas within the field. The struggle towards (re-)defining and making people aware about roots and ownership of a whole subculture is not only exhausting, but makes the individual vulnerable and exposed, until it becomes empowered by the practise itself.

Photo of Marjorie Tahbone by Meek Watchman

This tattooing revitalization is very precious and valuable to us and it’s very healing and sacred. So when we enter those spaces, we need to be together and work together and be there for each other because there are spaces of vulnerability.”[2]

Majorie Tahbone is a tattooing activist. With poking and stitching techniques, she draws a connection to her Inupiaq and Kiowa ancestors, who were based in native communities of North America. Also in this context, traditional tattooing has been lost due to a violent era of assimilation and the spread of Christianity. Luckily, Tahbone can prove a very strong connection to her community, which might be the major reason, that she found her way into the practise:

Inupiaq is a tribe that inhabits the arctic regions of the globe. I grew up living a fairly traditional lifestyle, learning to subsist and hunt for my family and others. I was fortunate to grow up with a strong identity to my Inupiaq roots. I was always intrigued with tattoos from our region, I had always seen them on women in pictures, but whenever I asked there was very little information about them. It almost seemed taboo to talk about them. I myself have three traditional tattoos. The first one I received was on my chin in 2012. Many years ago it was a symbol of womanhood and coming of age, when a girl becomes a woman who could bear children. I translated that to modern times and got mine after I graduated from college, moved back to my home community, and worked for my people. To get those I had the support and backing from my family, but it took several years to convince my grandmother, who lived in a time where it was shameful to admit you were Native.[3]

Image Courtesy: Marjorie Tahbone

Tahbone and other activists have to face two major struggles: Firstly, it is to revive the knowledge, which has been hidden and/or erased due to the massive threat of colonisation. Furthermore a fear, caused by the experience of existential urge to neglect the own identity as a survival strategy, finds its manifestation for example in the shame of elders, when it comes to their own roots. This shame is passed on to the young, so activists have to overcome this incorporated feeling towards their own community and cultural heritance.

Photo by Roy Andrew

Once reclaimed, tattooing, as any cultural practise, can become a great tool for fighting discrimination and overcoming structures of negation regarding the obvious diversity, which truly lies behind contemporary tattooing. The activities of Majorie Tahbone and others can be described as hybridization between local (traditional) and global approaches towards the field. In the end, various hybridizations could lead to new forms of transcultural identity in society. This model could basically be projected to any constellation-wise comparable context all around the world. Those stories, like the one of Majorie Tahbone, might make us realize, that capitalism and global dominance took away many things from people and masked them as its own ideas. But finally, in times of change and an urgent need for alternatives to the political status quo and the repressive system we live in, the fight for reclaiming culture has begun again. Lucky enough that we are part of a scene where the fight has already begun…. and it is finally time to join and show some solidarity!

Image Courtesy: Little Inuk Photography, for Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project

[1] Malorie Tahbone, in: http://cklbradio.com/inuit-women-bringing-back-traditional-tattooing/

[2] Malorie Tahbone, in: http://cklbradio.com/inuit-women-bringing-back-traditional-tattooing/

[3] Malorie Tahbone, in: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/11/15/tats-incredible-revival-indigenous-ink

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