Although I have no tattoos myself I’m fascinated by the characters that cover their bodies with them and the artists that create them. Traditional Maori tattoo or Tā Moko are representations of bloodlines etched onto the skin – inked stories of genealogy, history and ancestry that are crafted specifically for the person who wears them.
Since 1990 there has been a huge resurgence in the practice of Tā Moko for both men and women – as a sign of cultural identity and a reflection of the general revival of the Maori language and culture.
In a suburb of south Auckland I recently met up with Gordon Toi who greets me with an easy smile and a bone crushing handshake. Gordon is a prolific artist who trained as a traditional carver before exploring other forms of Maori art such as Ta Moko, painting, and stone sculpture.
His philosophy and craft remain true to his teachings to preserve the integrity of his culture, and this is reflected in his workspace which is a far cry from the commercial tattoo studios of the High Street. Filled with artifacts from his travels, books, pictures, paintings and a shrine in one corner – He Tohu O Te Wa has a intimate and spiritual feel.
It’s a moving experience to witness the Maori prayer that Gordon delivers before he begins the tattoo and a privilege to be invited into his world to photograph him at work….
I don’t have any tattoos.
I don’t think I could.
I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to needles.
When I got my ear pierced at 15 I fainted on the High Street outside the shop and forever lost my chance to look cool in front of the girl I was trying so hard to impress.
But I’m fascinated by people who put themselves under the needle to adorn their bodies in ink.
While getting a tattoo is now so commonplace as to be considered ‘normal’ what makes someone want to go beyond convention and express themselves through the artwork on their bodies.
Exploring areas of taboos and tattoos I’m indebted to Emma Garrard and Joe Munroe for inviting me into their world.