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University opens doors to Samoa tattoo

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

"While women shall bear children, men shall feel the fire of the tatau"- A Samoan proverb

The rarely seen process of traditional Samoan tattooing will be open for all to view at The University of Auckland's Fale Pasifika from this week.

Throughout August, as part of a programme to encourage the preservation of traditional Pacific knowledge, tufuga ta tatau (tattoo master) Su'a Suluape Alaiva'a Petelo, the son of renowned Samoan traditional artist Su'a Peter Suluape, will take up one of four of the University's Heritage Artists in Residencies for 2011.

The artist, who is well-known for both his contemporary and traditional tattooing, received his own pe'a (traditional male tatau covering the body from the waist to the knees) for his 19th birthday, a process which "completely changed his outlook on life".

During his month-long visit to the University Su'a will create a full-male tatau on Pacific Studies PhD candidate Falaniko Tominiko.

Falaniko explains: "For me receiving the tatau is a statement about being Samoan in New Zealand. It is as big as getting married and carries with it responsibilities. It is a visual sign of identity - you behave like a Samoan because you are wearing a symbol of Samoa. It is also a symbol of service, my service to the Centre for Pacific Studies and the service I will provide to my own family.

The process, which has been part of the Samoan culture for thousands of years, is known to be extremely painful. It is also intimate and usually only viewed by family.

Falaniko adds: "Having tatau in the Fale Pasifika is important. From a Western context it is an exhibition, from a Pacific context it is a classroom, a learning and sharing between the artist and the public."

Su'a Suluape's residency is the third of four month-long residencies at the University allowing Pacific Heritage artists to work full-time on a project based at the Centre's Fale Pasifika.

Previous residencies included the Oto'ota Fahina Society, a group of women textile artists from Mt Roskill, who created Tongan ngatu (tapa) from April to May; followed in June by Niuean weavers from Avondale-based Nuku21 Pasifika Trust (hailing originally from the northern villages of Mutalau and Toi in Niue) weaving lalaga and tia with both traditional and contemporary materials.

Tufuga Lalava Filipe Tohi, master in traditional Tongan lashing, and creator of the lashings inside the University's Fale, will work on a new installation for the final residency in October.

Director of the Centre for Pacific Studies, Walter Fraser says: "The Heritage Artists in Residence is a pioneering programme for traditional Pacific art designed to maintain heritage arts and make them more accessible to Pacific communities and the wider public."

As part of this residency's public programme an event evening entitled "Pacific Tufuga Roundtable" will be held at the Fale Pasifika from 4-6pm on Tuesday 9 August where practitioners, artists and writers will discuss the role of tufuga in contemporary society as well as the place of heritage art in New Zealand.

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