I have for a while now been on a journey of introspection, of understanding things in my life, therefore this is a personal post more so then others i have written, a very candid one at that, i invite comments, but this is my life, i don’t shy from critic and correction, though rudeness sucks and will be deleted!
As a (happily) married man and an as an artist, over ten years ago I began to take an interest in the heritage and culture of my wife, consequently the same shared heritage of that my children would inhabit. My wife is of Polynesian descent, being both Samoan and Tongan, it was automatic that such would influence my art, this influence would lead to a greater and deeper desire to understand and research my wife’s background, so that i would have substance and a foundation to the direction my art was taking, so as to not trivialize or cause offence through ignorance in the manner and way those Polynesian themes would be included in my work. This grew into passion that extended beyond two island groups, but to every Polynesian culture from the largest of islands to the smallest of atolls, its history, its myths, culture, tattooing, language and art , and most certainly its people.
Me in my garage – makeshift studio, pondering. 2009
This wasn’t a phase in my life, for my wife was not and is not a phase, and since my wife is my partner for life, in many ways Polynesia will always hold significance in our lives, for it is irreversibly intertwined with in our family and home.
In time this passion and knowledge in Polynesian topics i attained became coupled through my art, enabling me to understand certain aspects to Polynesian tattooing and history, which gave me an open door at various times to receive a number of tattoos. Many years ago I began designing Polynesian tattoos and selling those designs to clients over the internet, these were not cheap flash, they were done so in consultation with the client, one-off art works not to be repeated. A process would begin and an understanding of cultural obligation, understanding and meaning was attached to each design, I had written up information sheets that i freely gave to clients to inform themselves of what indeed they were asking for, what they in fact could request and on what grounds certain design requests would be refused upon, this was done prior to any work being done, in these times i surely worked more than what i was paid for, this is certain.
Me freshly tattooed. Auckland 2009.
Now and then online and in life, the issues of being a Pakeha, Palagi, Haole (non-polynesian) doing Polynesian design would bring the ire and opposition of some, whilst acceptance and praise was given by many also, mainly from family and those that personally knew me and the type of person i am, and because of the respect and reverence i gave to it and the accuracy i endeavoured to apply to it. For me tattooing is not a trend or fashion accessory, it is a mark of obligation in society,of standing, it is indeed an honourable thing to acquire and in no way associated with the criminal elements of society, you have to hold your self differently, for by what you wear you represent something as much identify with its roots. A person’s passion can polarize opinion and never produce agreement on all points it would seem and simply said “you please some people some time, but you can’t please all the people all the time.” And whilst there are many examples of non-polynesian engaging in Polynesian society, from chiefs, to priests and even tattooists in history, contemporary practice are viewed differently by some due to the passage of time and damage done to those cultures and the need to own and retain those cultural forms that were harmed so much, in some cases totally annihlated.The need for Polynesians to respectfully own and control their cultural identity is paramount and entirely understood, no argument against such can exist! Though, in our modern era I dare say at some time a balance must be struck, since a great deal of Polynesians today readily tattoo non-polynesian in increasing numbers, travelling the world, taking their art with them. For the most part they do not discriminate as to whom they tattoo, though perhaps as to what they tattoo.
Divisions in some cultures are now apparent, Maori do Ta MOKO for Maori, but tattoo Kirituhi for non-maori, of course the camp remains divided in the legitimacy of such terms, some groups say it is warranted today and traditionally justified, whilst others say “if it flies like a duck and quacks like a duck , then it is indeed a duck!” and that no basis for kirituhi traditionally exists, that ta Moko is Ta Moko irrespective of who wears it? these discussions and unresolved outcomes are best left in Maori hands and hearts, to which i offer no opinion on here.
Oils & Charcoal on wood. Detail of Toa. 2008.
Though, through such cultural transaction and opinion i began to look to my own heritage and art practice and the need for me to identify with the history of my own people, though the question i still ask myself is how far back do i go?
I argue that who we may be as a person, a race or a culture today was not so in times past and that the further back in time we go the less we become who we are today and vice versa. That life on earth is temporal, ( ideologies of eternity and the cosmos are diverse & many, i am speaking of earthly consequence and not spiritual perspectives here) with each generation a change whether by force or choice has changed us continually that we can at times bare only slight resemblances of our ancient and pre-history ancestors, to which the further we go back in time it is either God(s), a big bang or indifference that we all ultimately identify in, the difference is us? Though rejoice in who we are this day!
For some time now I have been dealing with many personal issues, it has brought suffering and confusion on many levels, thus the black dog has been my daily, though unwanted loyal companion. I have not been able to pursue things artistically it has been “a time of being still” i call it, my art has suffered, as has my life in general, i have ceased doing Polynesian tattoo design (for how long or for ever i do not know?) over the internet as well, I do not have it in me to continue in these things and though I carry a store house of knowledge, I have had to lay it all down. Our bodies and heart will only allow us to do so much, i tried in earnest to battle through it and persist, though when your heart and body speak you can not fight it, you must surrender to it some times (not always though?) and concerning Polynesian tattooing i wrestle also, as a Palagi, irrespective of my connections and ties, the modern world can quickly cause a cultural or religious icon to become a commodity, ones ambition and drive for money must not kurupt ones heart or best intentions, your conscience must be honest and clear, working that tricky balance between earning a living and exploitation and usury.
The very cool Ben Harper and his Ta MOKO/Kirituhi designs? (Jack Johnson& friends.)
In al of this i am slowly following a cautious impulse to follow the bloodline of my own people and the need to understand the changing history of Scotland and it’s people, as it is for most part for all peoples across the globe. The truth behind national and cultural identity is often marred by history, political intrigue, betrayal, prejudice and hidden or suppressed truth, with romanticized figures and nationalistic sentiment that can seek to forget a multitude of sins both endured and committed. We can easily puff out our chests over cultural history and glorify much, but can we dare see it’s weaknesses, for some they have never been able take pride in their heritage, down trodden, defeated and assimilated, taught to detest the very language they speak or the colour of their skin by their new rulers, a restoration in pride and culture strength is necessary in such circumstances, autonomy, sovereignty and respect afforded to all, though their will come a time when we all will respectfully to need to dare to acknowledge our weaknesses as individuals, cultures, societies and countries, that we are not perfect and nor are out histories collectively, that we will need to acknowledge further our failings and it’s charades, dare we see it for how it truly is, in doing so we might just find we have more in common then we do in our differences, after all people are people and to think of yourself higher or more righteous then another is pride and such invites a fall, these are the sins of empires and nations past.
I have a name and by it i am known and called, i am son of Scottish immigrants, whose arrival to Australia in 1956 was done so on the tail end of some of the most tortuous and harsh 2000yrs a nation can endure, a nation of mixed blood, of many kingdoms and peoples, of Picts, Scots/Gaels and Norseman, of ancient unknowns and origins, mythological and scientific guessing. The Scotland of today is a far cry of a hundred years ago and light years away from the mists of its beginnings.
Olga Kurylenko playing the role of a PICT in the up & coming movie CENTURION.
I contain many peoples, but i am neither quarter, half or empty of either, for I am one, full of all. This awareness has changed my thinking and placed me on a path, whose destination is unknown to man and perhaps known only to God, but thats ok, who wants to know it all? Theres no happiness in knowing it all and no hope in preempting anything, though there is peace in letting go and letting things be, in the end this is the learning of contentment, something our material world will never know?
We are from origins that did not bear the trappings of our cultural forms today and it is in this truth that perhaps we can understand ourselves better as humans and for me personally what maybe a new start to an artistic and fervent life can eventuate?
Thanx for reading 🙂