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This lavishly illustrated account of the vanishing art of women’s tribal tattooing is the record of tattoo anthropologist Lars Krutak’s ten-year research with indigenous peoples around the globe. Spanning five continents, The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women explores the personal and collective acts of human transformation through the tradition of indelible marking among indigenous peoples, past and present.
Throughout human history, women have applied tattoos to living skin in their attempts to beautify, heal, empower, or carry the male and female body into the afterlife. And as all tattoo bearers were participants in shared pain and recuperation, the skin was the location where identity and experience met. Tattoo firmly anchored indigenous values on the skin by creating a living canvas rooted in traditional practice. As ritual, tattooing re-enacted myth: it imitated the actions of the gods and ancestors who sacrificed their own skins to make them more lasting and sacred.
Although few of us today believe that our own rituals can change anything, indigenous women have and continue to believe in the power of permanent body art. Sometimes these changes were due to the animism infused into what we call tattoo ‘pigments’ and ‘instruments’ forged from natural materials that came from the surrounding environment: a place where all life – whether animal, vegetable, or human – was believed to be endowed with a spiritual aspect.
With more than 250 color and black & white illustrations, The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women not only examines the history and significance of tattooing through a comparative study of tattoo patterns and techniques, but also through interviews with the indigenous people who created them. The result is a comprehensive overview that establishes new ways of seeing and reading the messages encoded in ancient and more contemporary forms of tattooing through an exploration of these traditions worldwide.
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