For several millennia, ink has marked paths through Indigenous skin all around our world.
Today, we see a resurgence in traditional Indigenous tattooing practices within Indigenous communities and cultures on the territory now known as Canada. Tattooing is an art form that can serve in actively decolonizing one’s self – it is an act of reclaiming one’s lineage.
Indigenous tattooing long predates colonialism, yet its decline – for example, traditional Inuit tattoos – began with the arrival of Christian missionaries in Canada’s Arctic. The practice of this sacred art form was forbidden in Canada in 1885 at the same time as the potlatch ban.
This exhibition will be focused primarily on the artworks of 7 Indigenous tattoo artists. It will emphasize each artists’ individual process of creating a piece – the forms, aesthetics, meanings, and knowledge that they utilize. This exhibition will exist online and will include videos and photos of both the artists and their work. In this way, I hope to explore the visual tradition of knowledge transfer and provide a space for the aesthetic merit of artistic work.
The practice of Indigenous tattooing illustrates different values, symbolic rites of passages, connection to ancestors, and sacred relationships. All of this serves to demonstrate Indigenous perseverance. It is this complexity within the practice that also intrigues me. Because it is so different from one region to the next. And because it is so spiritual, so personal, and so multilayered.
This art form has endured over hundreds of years – it has connected to those before me and will connect to those after me. It is in this moment in time, that I see opportunity. I see younger generations, like my own, curious about and eager to participate in this form of self-expression and identity.
This project will explore the resurgence of Indigenous tattooing practices as they relate to cultural revitalization. As such, it will add to the current discourse and documentation. I see this as a collaborative opportunity to bridge curiosity and knowledge among Indigenous tattoo artists, their art and Indigenous youth.
— Amina Creighton-Kelly