Sione Napi Francis, lead curator of Museums Victoria Te Pasifika Gallery, discusses customary and contemporary art forms of tattoo from the Pacific, whose origins and practice today are still widely misunderstood.
He explores three traditions: one being revived (Tatatau – Tongan tattoo), one unbroken (Tatau – Samoan tattoo) and one contemporary – marks of personal meaning (Tattoo – Pacific diaspora marks).
Each tattoo is unique and especially chosen by or for an individual, often involving communities. They are a physical manifestation and representation of relational spaces and balance. They speak of and mark belonging, genealogy, learning, connecting, family and service.
Far from just pretty symbols, they form a complex system of written knowledge and graphic communication that is shared and understood across Oceania, predating colonisation and Christianity.