Nlaka’pamux Tattoo Festival 2020

Welcome to the third post outlining the skeleton of my Long Term Project Grant “Taking Nlaka’pamux Tattooing to the World.” Last week I shared with you the first of five overlapping projects, this week I will share with you one of the key portions of my grant proposal. The sharing of this knowledge with my community by bringing friends and colleagues to my ancestral community to tattoo over the course of a weekend, in my grant I term this enacting community responsibilities.

Beginning in 2015, I have worked with a small group of Nlaka’pamux community members, and we have organized three small community tattooing events. During the first two years of this grant, we will host two larger community cultural tattooing actions. These cultural tattooing events will be held over the course of a weekend, at which I and five or six colleagues will tattoo between three to five community members each with ancestral markings. These gatherings are part of my ethical protocols of reciprocity and community building. Over the past seven years I have spent a great deal of time within the larger movement to revive Indigenous tattooing across Canada and feel a pull to devote more time to my ancestral community. These gatherings will be planned with community members in locations that will allow for camping facilities for visiting community. 

These two events will be documented via video. I will be hiring a videographer, so the footage can be used for future multi-media installations, including at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology in the final year of this project. The documentation of these events will also include interviews with those wishing to share what the tattoo they received means to them. I will also interview other community members and elders who are willing to share what the revival of Nlaka’pamux tattooing means to them and the community.

For the event, a photographer will be hired to take professional portraits of the community members I have tattooed in the past or who are currently being tattooed. The photographs will be curated into a small community exhibition on Nlaka’pamux tattooing at The Nicola Valley Institute of Technology. This exhibition will include a public lecture and discussion panel featuring cultural tattoo practitioners from Indigenous nations across Turtle Island.  Photographs of prior work on Nlaka’pamux tattoo revival and historic references will be included. The exhibition will be composed of video and two-dimensional works. This exhibition will be held in the third and final year of the larger project to be able to include as much relevant material as possible. 

Next week I will be sharing with you how this grant will support a research and creation process, which I have desired to undertake for a long, time, the creation of traditional bone tools and inks. 

See you next week.

I acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Researching and Writing about Nlaka’pamux Visual Culture

Last week I shared with you the exciting news that I have been awarded a Canada Council of the Arts Long Term Project grant. This week I share with you what the first project attached to this grant will be. Beginning in my undergraduate degree I have been obsessed with writing and theorizing about the work that I do in the revival of Indigenous Tattooing. This obsession has brought me to successfully defending my masters thesis entitled, “Embodying the Past in the Present for the Future: Practicing, Supporting, and Highlighting Indigenous Tattoo Revivals Through Indigenous and Creative Research Methodologies.” And writing a handful of essays and for exhibition catalogues and festival pamphlets. The first project that I will undertake as part of, “Taking Nlaka’pamux Tattooing to the World,” will include research and writing. 

Canadian Museum of History Nlaka’pamux Cape

Many of the visual cultural objects that inhabited my ancestor’s landscape have vanished from our everyday lives. The ancestral visual legacy that my ancestors left behind is currently housed in museum and art gallery collections across the globe, hidden from my heart, mind, and vision. Since 2012, I have visited numerous local and regional museum collections, and documented many baskets, articles of clothing, and visual and material objects. I have also done extensive reading and archival research about my ancestral visual language as well as out on the land discovering and re-discovering rock art sites, which contain pictographs and petroglyphs. 

Pictograph Site

Funding for this project will allow me the time and ability to visit and re-visit my ancestral visual and material culture in the multitude of locations it is housed. This will strengthen my tattooing and artistic practice greatly because our visual culture and tattooing is not well documented. I can not see these objects in books or academic journal articles and the photographic documentation provided in digital databases does not give a sense of three-dimensional form and movement around the basket or clothing. In viewing the actual objects, I will get a greater sense of how the designs contained on the objects will translate into tattooing designs. Visiting these cultural objects will broaden my understanding of my ancestral artistic legacy and provide more inspiration for future manifestations of Nlaka’pamux tattooing, including the creation of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork. 

The collections which house my ancestral artistic legacy include, but are not limited to, the Canadian Museum of History, Museum of Archaeology, Royal BC Museum, American Museum of Natural History, and National Museum of the American Indian.  James Teit (who wrote the booklet “Tattooing Face and Body Painting of the Thompson Indians (Nlaka’pamux) and Harlan Smith, an archaeologist, both deposited large collections of Nlaka’pamux visual and material culture in each of these collections. I would like to not only visit the artefact collections but also the acquisition notes for the artefacts in the archives. 

After spending considerable time in museum and archive collections and working on my master’s thesis, I see a need for an Nlaka’pamux and Interior Salish visual dictionary as a resource for the coming generations. This visual dictionary will act as a quick reference resource for me and for Nlaka’pamux tattooing in the future, as well as for Nlaka’pamux and Interior Salish artists and cultural practitioners today and into the future. 

Next week I will share with you the exciting new project I will be undertaking as part of this grant, the creation of Nlaka’pamux Blackwork. 

See you next week.

I acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Taking Nlaka’pamux Tattooing to the World

My name is Dion Kaszas I have been at the forefront of the revival of Indigenous tattooing since 2010, through, writing, research, teaching and practicing skin stitch and hand poke tattooing. I have spent considerable time over the past seven to eight years sharing my knowledge with the larger Indigenous community in Canada. As co-founder of the Earthline Tattoo collective alongside my friends and colleagues Jordan Bennett and Amy Malbeuf. I have work as lead facilitator of the Earthline Tattoo Training Residency for three of its four manifestations and worked as co-curator for the “Body Language” exhibition at the Bill Reid Gallery among many other projects. 

Photo by Tia Clearsky of Whaea Productions

This past year I felt a pull to begin giving back to my Nlaka’pamux community, which lead me to develop a three year long term project grant proposal which was submitted to the Canada Council of the Arts in June of 2019. The title of this project is “Taking Nlaka’pamux Tattooing to the World.” In October of 2019 I was informed that I received this grant and am excited to begin the journey of undertaking the many overlapping projects associated with this gracious gift. 

In my grant proposal I state that, the vision for this project begins with three goals. The first broad goal is to dive deeper into the visual and material culture of my Nlaka’pamux artistic tradition to expand my knowledge. Secondly, it allows me time to transform the knowledge I will acquire and already possess into formats that I can share with my ancestral community and others and pass onto the coming generations, including but not limited to written resource materials, audio, and visual materials and the application of our ancestral artistic art form of tattooing in new and innovative ways.  Finally, I hope one of the outcomes of this project is expanding awareness and interest in Nlaka’pamux and Interior Salish aesthetics, by creating artistic works that highlight our visual language and develop a broader international audience.  

The research undertaken as part of this grant will lead to two outcomes that will uplift and enhance my artistic practice and the artistic and visual language of my nation. First, the creation of the Nlaka’pamux visual dictionary that displays and articulates our understanding of historic and contemporary designs and motifs. Secondly, as I understand and am exposed to more of my ancestral visual language, I will gain a greater capacity to translate this language to the human body and enhance the revival of our tattooing tradition. 

I will endeavour to begin translating Nlaka’pamux visual language to the landscape of the human body in ways that have never been attempted before, I will be pushing our embodied artistic practice of tattooing into the contemporary world. This is an evolution of Nlaka’pamux tattooing, and it will create a new genre of tribal tattooing for the coming generations of Nlaka’pamux tattoo artists and cultural practitioners. In documenting my process and journey, I will also be leaving footprints for Indigenous peoples from other nations who would like to take a similar journey and innovate and create new embodied artistic practices.  

Through relearning how to make bone tools and traditional inks I will be able to pass this gift of knowledge to my Nlaka’pamux community and the community of cultural tattoo practitioners across Turtle Island. This knowledge will enable the use our traditional handmade tools in our ceremonial tattooing practices and important community cultural events. 

Canadian Museum of History Inuit Bone Needle

By traveling to international tattooing conventions with a finely crafted display highlighting the work undertaken during this grant, I will be exposing the larger contemporary tattoo community to the art of my ancestors. By transitioning from a typical tattoo artist who tattoos anything that comes in the door, I will demonstrate an Indigenous ethic of community responsibility via the relationships I have with artists from nations that are not my own. Through creating only from the visual vocabulary that is connected to my genealogy, I can assert and communicate the issues around cultural appropriation in tattooing.  This also pushes forward the issue of Indigenous embodied artistic practices being practiced by Indigenous peoples.

I have to acknowledge the continued support and encouragement of Margo Tamez who always takes the time to assist with my many written pieces and proposals. I am also indebted to Angela Clyburn for here assistance with editing and revising this grant application. Finally I am also very grateful to Amy Malbeuf for her assistance in editing and revising and envisioning many parts of this proposal. Without the love and support of my lovely wife Jayne Kaszas I would not be able to do the work that I do.

Over the next five weeks I will share with you the five overlapping projects that I have proposed as part of “Taking Nlaka’pamux Tattooing to the World.” Each Saturday morning before noon Atlantic time I will post a weekly blog post, the first five weeks will share with you what each project will be and as the weeks go on I will keep you updated as the grant unfolds. 

See you next week.

I acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.