Tattooing was once a radical act of self-expression but today it's accepted by the mainstream and for many, it's an emblem of identity and memory.

Exploring that identity and what it means for different cultures is at the heart of the Viceland series Needles & Pins, which premieres here on Tuesday.

Hosted by Grace Neutral, the series saw the British tattoo artist wing her way to Aotearoa to meet our local tattoo community and learn about the growing popularity of ta moko.

That moment when you realise the mother spirit is flowing through your heart chakra

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Based in London, 26-year-old Neutral has transformed from ballerina to alternative hand poke tattoo artist in the space of a few years, garnering a huge online following in the process.


After sustaining an injury that ended her ballet career, Neutral became interested in body modifications, beginning with body piercing and moving to tattoos.

"I'm a tattoo artist first and foremost. It's my bread and butter ... it's one of the most rewarding things you can do."

Neutral's look has changed dramatically in recent years, with her sporting significant facial scarification, a forked tongue, reconstructed ears, a removed navel and indigo-inked eyes.


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But her interest in indigenous tattooing stems back to her childhood.

"I was an alternative weirdo school and I have always been interested in tribal culture and my mum's an artist and she had all of that sort of work in her art shop when I was growing up.

"I was exposed to this whole other world of beauty out there that I didn't think ever existed."

Exploring that world of beauty brought her to New Zealand, where she met Maori activist Tame Iti.

"He is such an amazing guy. He has such a sweet soul. He's very strong and also a fighter and he really believes in what he's fighting for. He is so passionate about his genealogy and where he comes from.

"I found him very inspiring and I was blown over when he asked me to tattoo him. It was one of the most relaxed tattoos ever. We lay out in his back garden and we were just chatting in the sunshine."

Neutral has visited plenty of countries as an alternative culture journalist with Vice but says she was incredibly moved by New Zealand's unique Maori culture.

"I came to New Zealand knowing I was filming a show about tattooing but I didn't realise how much of an impact the culture would have on me. Also how rich the history of tattooing is and how deep and far it goes back. It was really beautiful to learn so much about Maori tattooing and ta moko."

However, Neutral thinks New Zealand should do more to recognise our native culture and traditions.

"I think the Maori culture is incredibly beautiful. The family values and the ties to nature and how sacred and connected the people are with the land. Ta moko is part of that whole thing and I think it's very important that it's celebrated and acknowledged.

"I personally don't think the Maori culture is treated equally so I would like to see it celebrated more and more people learning about it."

Needles & Pins screens on Viceland, Tuesdays at 8.30pm