As European explorers and Native chiefs set-up the translation
protocol of their meetings, in the background, sailors and warriors
would check out each others tattoos and piercings. You could
say those were the first cross cultural exchanges in the Americas.
Tattooing and body art was widespread among most tribes but because
of Christianity and acculturation it disappeared or went underground
for a century or so. Since the late 1960s, modern society
has seen a resurgence of all types of tattooing, with tribal designs
especially trending. Before, it was the domain of subcultures like
bikers, sailors, gangs, clubs, and inmates. Then the 1980s
saw the rise of Punk and a Youth culture of non-conformity and body
art took off. Tribal tattoos now reflect Clan symbols and legends,
totems and spirit protectors, family traditions and Native languages.
Tribal members now modernize traditional arts like wampum designs
and pictographs into body art to update and re-affirm cultural identity.
Milestone events occurred along the way. In 1710, 3 Mohawk Chiefs
(called Kings) visited London to garner assistance from
the royal court to fight the French and their Algonquin allies.
Queen Anne commissioned a painting by John Verelst to celebrate
the event, prints made from these paintings were widely disseminated
and are still used today by artists to base their tattoo designs
(i.e. the late 90s film, Brotherhood of the Wolf). But as
these Mohawk warriors walked the streets of London they created
a media-buzz, soon tattoos became the rage among young dandies and
they would gather into groups of street ruffians, acting out as
they perceived tribal Mohawks might. 250 years later
all this re-appeared in the late 1970s among the Punks of
London. Along this timeline, young Victorian ladies would also tattoo
hidden areas with small designs and this of course has continued
with young women today. Punk culture as haute-couture was reveled
in all its retro glory at the MET in NYC this past spring, with
plenty of real and temporary tattoos, some Mo and mostly Faux-hawks
and neo-tribal pleather.
The Iroquois Museum opened a tattoo themed art exhibit called
IndianInk: The Iroquois and the Art of Tattoos, in May and it will
run through November 30. Tattoo and body art experts, Lars Krutak
and Michael Galban, held presentations open to the public. Ganondogan
Historic Site contributed to Galbans lecture, as he has extensively
researched Iroquois and Northeastern body art. During the annual
Labor Day Weekend Festival of the Arts, August 31 and September
1, there will be high quality painted and airbrushed temporary tattoos
by Mohawk artist Peter Loran, with artwork by Iroquois artists Peter
B. Jones, Carson Waterman, John Thomas and myself. The Museum presents
individuals with their body art/tattoo designs on photo-panels throughout
the its space at every level. Co-curators Colette Lemmon and
Stephanie Shultes visited Iroquois communities to do the research
on a personal art form that dates back thousands of years, and many
tattooed Natives have shared their ink on a Facebook page related
to the exhibition. It is a very different, personal yet dynamic
kind of art exhibit.
In Iroquois country, as these photos demonstrate, the Hiawatha
Belt is a particuarly popular design. Its five shapes symbolize
the five nations (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk) of the
IndianInk is inspired by TATTOO NATION, a Nation to Nation sponsored
event in 1997 and a conference paper presented by Carla Hemlock
in 2011. The Iroquois Museum was founded in 1980, is located at
Howes Cave, NY, 40 miles west of Albany. For further info:
or call (518) 296-8949.
The Iroquois Indian Museum is an educational institution dedicated
to fostering understanding of Iroquois culture using Iroquois art
as a window to that culture. The Museum is a venue for promoting
Iroquois art and artists, and a meeting place for all peoples to
celebrate Iroquois culture and diversity. As an anthropological
institution, it is informed by research on archaeology, history,
and the common creative spirit of modern artists and craftspeople.