Mount Maunganui artist Julie Paama-Pengelly is helping lead the resurgence of indigenous tattoos, not just here in New Zealand, but around the world.

"Māori tattooing was exiled in the early 1900s with the Tohunga Suppression Act," she said.

"Particularly facial tattoos, and anything that looked like we were revering our gods, was outlawed. So that practice has really only seen the light again through the active measures of a number of artists."

On March 14 and 15, artists embracing indigenous tattoo practices were showcasing their work at Tauranga's Tattoo & Art Extravaganza.


"Māori tattooing was traditionally embedded in a cultural practice that was about our interaction with the environment and ensuring that we lived in a way that respected all the resources and everything that we interacted with. Skin marking for Māori is a spiritual practice because we believe that everything had a life force, a 'mauri'."

The festival featured indigenous tattoo artists from all around the world, with many of them looking to Māori culture for inspiration.

"Because we're in the third wave of revival, a lot of indigenous cultures have been inspired by that and they visually see our culture, whether it's the haka and things like that, but they've begun reviving their own and they look towards us for guidance."

Advancements in technology have had an impact on traditional methods but that's been positive.

"Māori made the transition to steel tools, particularly on the face, the women, the chin, the moko kauae that I wear - that transition was made even when the Tohunga Suppression Act outlawed the practice.

"That colonisation has made it difficult to discern what was traditional and what was evolved. But we were always going to evolve and I think the progress to needles was a very good one because our old process was very traumatic – people died," Paama-Pengelly said.

And while tattoos might seem commonplace in New Zealand, Paama-Pengelly says prejudices still exist.

"New Zealand is one of the most highly tattooed populations in the world, per capita. There's certainly some very high-profile, mainstream workplaces that probably need to signal their change because they're quite prepared to accept Māori culture as part of their branding and these sorts of things ... but breaking down those prejudices are really difficult."


Nonetheless, this world leader is optimistic about attitudes changing.

"There's a huge resurgence of facial tattoos and I hope that for my children and the next generation that it's normalised."

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