Making a mark: exploring tattoos and identity

Paul Stillen's tattoo design being showcased in the Immigration Museum. (Photo: Supplied)

Melbourne’s Immigration Museum is examining the art of tattoo within self-expression and culture at a thought-provoking exhibition.

Our Bodies, Our Voices, Our Marks is a suite of exhibitions that explore the intersection of ancient and modern tattoo practices.

Among the richest tattooing traditions is that of Japan.

Japanese Tattoo done by Shige. (Photo: Supplied)

The museum’s experience developer Lauren Ellis describes the Japanese tattoo as “very complex piece in Japanese culture which is a grand, fine, highly dynamic art form but also quite socially stigmatised and actually taboo in mainstream Japanese culture”.

“It was a huge success for them and has proved very popular here in Melbourne also.”

Exhibition artist and designer Kip Fulbeck says the title “perseverance” comes from the Japanese idea of ‘gaman’.

“Gaman is the idea that as an artist you strive and strive, refine and refine, push and push,” he said.

Samoan Tatau not only is a piece of art but also has spiritual meaning as well. (Photo: Supplied)

Meanwhile, the Tatau is a beautiful photographic documentary all about the art of Samoan tattoo. It speaks about the Tatau as a “deep culture significance of connection to ancestors and ancestral knowledge of community and belonging.”

A woman’s malu tattoos are considered sacred in Samoan culture, so Angela Tiatia pushed boundaries in Walking the Wall by exposing some flesh to push back against what’s considered ‘proper’ for women.

The Perseverance and Tatau comes from the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, California and are being toured internationally by Flying Fish Exhibits.

The Ukrainian-Australian artist and tattooist Stanislava Pinchuk (Miso) curated Documenting the Body.

“I’ve always seen tattooing as one of the most magic drawing practices that humans have,” he said.

“Tattoos can cast us outside of society, or mark us as belonging, or both. It is a wonderful contradiction.”

Australian tattoo artist Paul Stillen explores homegrown examples depicting diverse cultural identities. He says he likes to explore a lot of “traditional motifs, vases or prints of traditional arts from their ethnic backgrounds.”

More of Paul Stillen’s work:

Zaiba Khan and Stanislava Pinchuk have come together to explore tattooing and goldsmithing into their artistic world. As part of Miso’s art practice she also does very delicate hand poked tattoos that represents a personal journey of migration.

Poked Tattoo combined with gold jewellery. (Photo: Supplied)

Similarly, Zaiba Khan’s jewellery also speaks to migration journey, mainly her own family’s as they migrated here, bringing spices and other valuable items.