Tattoo Culture: Past and Present

In 1991, a tattooed “Iceman” was discovered on the Italian-Austrian border. This buried cadaver was carbon-dated back 5200 years, making him the first tattooed individual known to us today. He is by no means an exception, however, but an example of the rule. Tattoos have been found on bodies belonging to all ancient cultures. Ancient Egyptian women buried near royals and elites. Britons marked in accordance with their societal status- so noticeably so that the Romans dubbed them the ‘painted people.’ Tattooed cadavers have been found in the Chinese Taklimakan Desert, Greenland, and Peru. We can only guess at the meaning behind the ink, but according to Joann Fletcher, an archaeologist at the University of York, tattoo symbolism spans a wide spectrum: from marking criminals to identifying religions to distinguishing royalty. Even such, there exists a common thread that pulls all of these ancient tattoos together: identification. Tattoos said something about who you were.

Flash forward to the 1800s, when American sailors used tattoos as a form of identification as well as a means of storytelling. The tattoos of a sailor were a sort of resume: a combination of identification information and a list of experiences.

After the American Revolution, American sailors were desperately seeking to avoid the English Royal Navy draft. Sailors were issued government ‘Protection Papers’ in order to reaffirm their American citizenship and dodge this dreary fate. Extremely unreliable, however, these papers contained only vague, generalizable descriptions. In order to solve this problem, sailors would use their tattoos as descriptors for the ‘Protection Papers.’ Commonly used tattoos were significant dates, crucifixes, or names of loved-ones.

But that was only the heading of the resume. A list of achievements and experiences followed suit. Within the variety of stock sailor tattoos that exist, there lies a code that marks where a sailor has been, and how far he has travelled. The iconic swallow tattoo is one such mark. According to sea-faring legend, each swallow signalled that a sailor had travelled 5,000 nautical miles. Similarly, a full-rigged ship distinguished that its bearer had sailed around Cape Horn, and an anchor indicated that he had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. Tattoos said something about what you had done.

Where does that bring us to today? Do we have more in common with ancient Egyptian priestesses tattooed in order to assert their status, or the sailors, for whom tattoos tell their life story? Are they a mark of who we are or what we have done?

According to Hannah Ravening, a Fine Arts student at Emily Carr and an aspiring tattoo artist, tattoos are about collaboration and sharing art. It is a “highly collaborative process,” she tells me, and the industry in Vancouver is “very supportive and non-competitive.” When asked what compels most to get permanently inked, she says that some want to distinguish themselves as belonging to the “edgier” side of life. The majority, however, “are expressing their individuality, similarly to how people wear particular clothing and makeup.” What attracts Hannah to the tattoo scene the most is the communism of it all- the openness and collaboration. There is a sense of camaraderie and creative flow that connects artists in the tattoo industry, a common vein that links those who tap in and participate.

The tattoo community can be traced around the world today, thanks to social media platforms such as Instagram. Artists can travel to foreign fan-bases and hold flash tattoo sales. An artist in Vancouver can collaborate with an artist in Berlin. In sync with this heightened awareness of tattoo culture in foreign countries has come a decrease in culturally appropriated tattoos. Hannah remarks that a decade ago, Canadians commonly got mandala or Chinese character tattoos, but artists today refuse to give a client a culturally symbolic tattoo unless it is common to both of their cultures.

Today our tattoos tell not only a story, but also who we have become as a result of that story. Tattoos show at once belonging to a group- be it a sailor’s union, ancient Egyptian royalty, or North Van (ever seen a mountain biker with the North Shore mountains around their ankle?) and uniqueness. We mark ourselves to share who we are, reflect on where we come from, and remember where we want to go.

Hannah has a cherry bomb tattoo on her lower back to commemorate a fruity summer backpacking around Europe. The cherry bomb is also a nod to Cherie Curry, lead singer of the punk band The Runaways, and Hannah’s personal inspiration. Her tattoo illustrates an experience that influences who she is today. It is also a reminder of who she wants to be in the future.

Profile Image- “Much tattooed sailor aboard the USS New Jersey.” December 1944/ Lt. Comdr. Charles Fenno Jacobs (1904-1975) for the U.S. Navy/ General Photographic File of the Department of Navy. National Archives and Records Administration, Local Identifier 80-G-470222

A Night of Art, Fashion and R&B in Gastown

Event organizer 2Cream2Sugar, in collaboration with the Hide+Seek group, showcased a wide range of local artists Saturday, May 25 at their “Street Dreams” warehouse party in Gastown.

Featuring a multidisciplinary lineup of visual artists, fashion designers and musicians, the night saw a wide range of creative influences in an intimate studio space. After watching the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks to reach the NBA Finals on a large projected screen, the crowds were in a good mood to enjoy visual art displayed around the space all night long, and runway shows of local fashion designers paired with musical acts.

Several designers presented reworked fashion pieces including ACiD ART in their debut show, and KSLAM clothing, the product of Casey Lamb who was featured here after her designs were shown in the S/S19 edition of Vancouver Fashion Week. KSLAM’s key pieces included a dress made completely of reworked leather belts, and accessories constructed of dangling knife blades. Kash Kulture and JB Gear rounded out the night with streetwear offering.

^ only Fara and Elijah Blond were R&B artists, the others fall into the category of Hip Hop. Girard a rapper joined Elijah on stage and DKAY, another rapper, also joined FARA on stage. Teon Gibbs was accompanied by Makadi and Amber Bayani who are R&B vocalists.

R&B acts Fara, and Elijah Bond paired well with runway shows, especially Fara who energized the crowd with 90’s covers and her own original content. Elijah Blond and Kid Sharif later ushered in the night with darker, trap-influenced tracks. Visual artists Mescondi Photography, Taylor Borque Designs, Tim Rolls, Dani Oz, and Max Bryan introduced a range of art on display and for sale. When asked about the idea behind 2Cream2Sugar’s Vancouver events, organizer SJ preaches the importance of bringing together groups of creatives that may not usually share the same stage.

“Community over everything,” they said. “Specific to Vancouver, the visual artists, musicians and designers in the past have kind of been in their own little silos. But that’s slowly been changing as the creative scene here grows—that’s why 2C2S’s past few shows have been about tearing down those barriers and bringing the entire creative community together.”

SJ also feels fortunate to have the opportunity to put on 2C2S’s events during a period of time that is favourable for the grassroots creative scene, especially over the course of the past decade where creative events have moved away from being commercially-driven, and not focused on accessibility. 2C2S is one of many groups running without external funding that SJ claims “do whatever [they] can with no help from the corporate side of art and music in the city.”

This attitude towards showcasing creativity resulted in an evening where a diverse group of creatives could flaunt their latest work and build connections with other members of the community. In an environment where spaces to organize these kinds of events on can be expensive and difficult to secure, it seems best to get as many artists under one roof as possible.

2Cream2Sugar is planning to hold a similar event in Vancouver this July.

Article Cover Photo

Nick Brons

Featured Artists:

Fashion

ACiD ART

JB GEAR

Sleepless Mindz Clothing&Design

KSLAM

Kash Kulture Apparel 604

Music

Teon Gibbs

Kid Sharif

Elijah Blond

Fara

Ryu Darko

Visual Artists

Mescondi Photography

Taylor Borque Designs

Tim Rolls

Dani Oz

nayrbxam

Yellow Is Forbidden: Designer Guo Pei

When Rihanna walked the red carpet at the 2015 Met Gala sporting a 25-kilo dress spun from gold and fox fur, the fashion world gawked, and a new star was born: Chinese designer Guo Pei. Raised in Beijing (and still based there), Guo has become much more than a top fashion personage—being Chinese, she is both a living example of China’s rising fortunes and a political symbol, whether she wishes to be or not (she says not), of the possibilities for achievement under the Chinese regime. (It is not for nothing that Time magazine put her on its list of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2016).

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Now, the legendary designer’s story has spurred the new documentary Yellow is Forbidden, made by Auckland filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly.

Brettkelly’s deep-dive chronicle of Guo as person, fashion star and emblem benefits enormously from the fact that she had full cooperation from the energetic designer. But this isn’t hagiography: the behind-the-scenes access to the preparations for Guo’s make-or-break Paris runway show, while both fascinating and tense, show the conflicted side of the fashion world and Guo’s place in it.

With a client list that includes Beyonce and Rihanna, fashion lovers ought to be waiting on the edge of their seats to see this eye-opening story and Vancouverites have the chance to see the film on the big screen this week at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Yellow is Forbidden (https://goviff.org/yellow-is-forbidden/) is playing Oct 7 & 10, with Guo Pei herself set to attend the film’s opening screening at the Vancouver Playhouse on the 7th, ahead of an exhibition of her work titled Guo Pei: Couture Beyond opening at the Vancouver Art Gallery (https://www.vanartgallery.bc.ca/the_exhibitions/exhibit_guopei.html) later this month.

More information about Yellow is Forbidden can be found at the VIFF website: https://goviff.org/yellow-is-forbidden/)

For $2 off your ticket price, order online with the promo code VF18YELLOW

 

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/262913757

 

Playground in the Desert: Coachella

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Imagining my childhood I can clearly remember being curious about the ordinary and looking at everything with wonder. Walking through the entrance into Coachella there is a palpable shift in energy, where each individual is filled with this feeling. Coachella, a music and arts festival based in Southern California, is a wonderland for the child at heart. There’s a youthful excitement about all aspects of the festival. The fashion, food, and artwork are all so awe-inspiring, let alone the music. Coachella felt like a playground, a place to be in the moment (besides making sure to post insta worthy photos on social media) and a place to have fun.

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The fashion is unlike normal streetwear, it’s more edgy and adventurous. Every festival-goer expressed themselves through their carefully curated look. From swimsuits to rompers and everything in between, almost every style was on display.

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The food is a whole new adventure, and also played on the idea of nostalgia. Restaurants such as Mom’s Spaghetti, which offered a classic spaghetti and meatballs, brought each individual back to their childhood. Or, Seabirds vegan grilled cheese with creamy pesto offered a new twist on a classic favourite.

And of course the main event, the music, was just as attention-grabbing. Odesza’s performance featured futuristic drones, which moved into different formations throughout their songs. Petit Biscuit performed with a lot of energy, with screens showing space graphics of the universe.

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The artwork was so playful and captivating. The Do Lab stage was a beautifully created tent-like area which featured a flower-like water gun, reminding me of gym class when students would sit underneath a large coloured parachute. Even the Balloon Chain, by Robert Bose, which featured a line of balloons leading to the sky was a marvel. The artpiece Lodestar by Randy Polumbo, was something out of a storybook.

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Coachella is about living in the moment, a huge party set in a desert playground. I’ll definitely be back next year.

Polaroid images taken by Alexa Wenzel.

Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg

A retrospective exhibition on Murakami at Vancouver Art Gallery

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Takashi Murakami Tan Tan Bo Puking - a.k.a. Gero Tan, 2002 acrylic on canvas mounted on board

Vancouverites, you may have spotted the huge coloured octopus adorning the roof of the Vancouver Art Gallery on your walks along Georgia Street. So what is said larger than life creature? -it's a new major public artwork from Takashi Murakami, a Japanese contemporary artist, whose retrospective is happening right now at VAG. It’s as if Murakami’s work is crawling out of the gallery space enticing us to come inside.

Takashi Murakami Kansei Gold, 2008 acrylic and gold leaf on canvas

Kicking off the spring season in style, Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg is in fact the first ever major retrospective of Takashi Murakami’s work showcased in Canada. Micro Macro, on the hunt for visual intrigue, entered the world of Takashi Murakami for an immersive art experience; just like stepping inside Murakami’s creative, eccentric brain.

Murakami's huge canvases present a massive scale that is truly awe-inspiring, and fills the white gallery space with vibrant brilliant colour, creating a strong impact.

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Takashi Murakami Flowers, flowers, flowers, 2010 acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on aluminium frame

Featuring over 55 impressive paintings and sculptures, the work makes up a colourful frenzy of energy. Taking a closer look at Murakami’s pieces you can truly value the artist’s role as a cultural commentator with works offering a serious engagement on issues affecting Japan and the larger world today, from media culture to globalisation to the threats of nuclear power.

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Takashi Murakami 727, 1996 acrylic on canvas mounted on board

We took a journey through 3 decades of Murakami’s art from his earliest mature work right through to present day. It was compelling to see the evolution in his designs. We were particularly taken by the 1990s distinctive, anime-influenced style known as Superflat with signature animated flowers. On your visit, keep an eye out for the iconic character Mr. DOB, a self-portrait, who features in some of the works.

Along with Nihonga-style paintings, we were met with huge menacing demon-like sculptures, cartoonish with flared nostrils, who took an ominous presence in the gallery.

Takashi Murakami Embodiment of “Um”, 2014 FRP, stainless steel, zelkova wood, and acrylic

Takashi Murakami Embodiment of “A”, 2014 FRP, stainless steel, zelkova wood, and acrylic

Takashi Murakami’s dedication to exquisite craftsmanship and fun pop aesthetics made for a unique, dynamic showcase. It was a real pleasure to get an insight into the imagination of this influential and visionary artist.

The exhibition closes May 6th so make sure to get yourself down to the gallery. You don’t want to miss out on this vibrant frenzy of colour, a little escapism is good for the soul!

About Takashi Murakami

Takashi Murakami was born in 1962 in Tokyo, Japan. He studied at Tokyo University of the Arts, Japan, where he received his BFA in 1986, his MFA in 1988, and his Ph.D. in 1993. He is the founder of the art production and management company Kaikai Kiki, which evolved from its predecessor, the Hiropon Factory founded in 1996. 

Murakami is well known for his high-profile projects with brands such as Louis Vuitton, VANS, shu uemura, Issey Miyake, Lucien Pellat-Finet, Roppongi Hills and ComplexCon, as well as collaborations with musicians such as Kanye West and Pharrell Williams.

 

Images courtesy of Vancouver Art Gallery.

http://www.vanartgallery.bc.ca/