This exhibition is a revelation of a spectacular Polynesian body art, the tattoo tradition of Samoa. For centuries peoples across the Pacific have decorated their bodies with dynamic tattoo designs. In Samoa Tufuga ta Tatau or ‘Priests of Tattoo’have continued, up to the present, to use customary tools to create the pe’a, the elaborate male tattoo, and the malu, the women’s equivalent.
For over 25 years Mark Adams, one of New Zealand’s most distinguished photographic artists, recorded the work of his friend Paulo Sulu’ape, the pre-eminent figure in modern Samoan tattooing. Sulu’ape was remarkable for taking the art beyond the Samoan community and beyond Samoa’s shores. Tatau not only flourished among Samoan migrants in New Zealand, it became famous among the international tattoo community. This exhibition tracks tatau, from Samoan homes in New Zealand to Amsterdam and beyond.
An evocation of an extraordinary art, the Tatau exhibition draws attention to surprising cross-currents in the globalization of culture, and confronts photography with its own history of voyeurism and ‘othering’.
Tatau’s opening will be marked by a symposium featuring a conversation between the photographer, Mark Adams, tattooist and friend of Sulu’ape, Michel Thieme, and Nicholas Thomas, anthropologist and editor of Tattoo and many other books on Pacific art and culture. The programme will include a screening of Tatau: a Journey by Samoan filmmaker Lisa Taouma, and the UK launch of Tatau: Photographs by Mark Adams (Te Papa Press, 2010), the definitive publication of Adams’ photographic series.