12 February – 1 May 2005

An Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington Touring Exhibition

Featuring the compelling photographs of Mark Adams and an experimental film by Lisa Taouma, Tatau is an exhibition examining the origins, history and practice of Samoan tattooing and its contemporary significance. Bringing into focus the pe'a or traditionally male tattoo, and the malu or traditionally female tattoo, Tatau explores Samoan tattooing from a contemporary perspective and documents the extraordinary cross-cultural history of tatau since the 1970s – transported to the migrant communities of New Zealand, disseminated into various international subcultures, and played out in the context of domestic lounge room settings from Auckland to the Netherlands.

Mark Adams' series of 43 photographs is based on a 25 year association with the tufuga tatatau (tattoo artists) of the aiga Sa Su'a (tattoo family), and in particular on the friendship of tattoo master Sulu'ape Paulo II. Lisa Taouma's short film, Measina Samoa: Stories of the Malu, is a metaphorical journey that explores the mythological origins of the tatau. The film imaginatively re-presents the legend of how two sisters brought knowledge of the tatau to Samoa, and juxtaposes that legend with the testimonies of contemporary Samoan women who speak about the malu and its impact on their lives.

Together the exhibitions affirm the vitality of an ancient cultural practice, while raising complex questions about culture and globalisation, gender and ethnicity, cross-cultural exchange and ethnographic representation.

Tatau is funded by The Getty Grant Programme (USA); the Arts and Humanities Research Board (UK) and Goldsmiths College, University of London.