Posts Tagged ‘symbols’

There are seven or eight large photographs, portraits of older women, on University Avenue.   They were actually part of the CONTACT Photography Festival and they have been on display outside the Royal Ontario Museum since early May.  The photos are the ‘The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga”, portraits by Jake Verzosa.

large black and white photo of an older woman with many tattoos, black and white, displayed outside, another portrait in the background

In the villages of the Cordillera mountains of northern Philippines the women have been tattooed with lace-like patterns for centuries.  The tattoos are symbols of stature, beauty, wealth and fortitude and are traditionally applied during rituals.  The tradition is dying out as standards of beauty change and as the old ways are replaced with more modern methods.

Each village once had their own tattooist, or mambabatok, but today only one remains.  Born in 1918, Whang-od (or Fhang-od), is the last person to practice the centuries old technique called batok.  The ink is made of charcoal and water and it is applied by tapping the skin with a thorn.

two older women with their shoulders tattooed, wearing necklaces and a patterned skirt, seated. Black and white

Once the men were also tattooed.  The Kalinga tattoo has evolved from their ancient tradition as warriors and headhunters.  Heads were taken from fights and battles as a trophy; each time a man brought home a head he would receive another tattoo as a reward.  Tattoos were a mark of social status.

Indigenous groups throughout the Philippines practiced tattooing for centuries.   When the Spanish arrived in the 1500’s they called the people ‘pintados’ or ‘painted people’ as it was not uncommon for people to have tattoos covering their whole body.  While some tribes used tattoos to mark status, other tribes believed that tattoos possessed special spiritual or magical powers which gave the individuals strength and protection.  The use of tattoos as protective symbols is an idea that occurs in many cultures.

large black and white photo of an older woman with many tattoos, black and white, displayed outside, another portrait in the background

In conjunction with the Kalinga portraits, the ROM is featuring an exhibit that examines the beliefs surrounding tattoos, and the role that they and other forms of body art play in different cultures over the years.  “Tattoos: Ritual, Identity, Obsession, Art” is on view until September 5th.  It is a global tour of tattoos past and present.

One of the cultures that is featured is the Chinese.  For centuries, tattoos were forbidden, or at least taboo, in China.  To be tattooed was to be discriminated against as they were associated with prisoners or vagrants.  Recently that has begun to change.

below: Three large modern picture tattoos by Taiwanese tattoo artist Gao Bin featuring traditional Chinese images, Buddha, lion and dragon.  Tattoos as a cultural expression.  In some countries such as Sri Lanka and Thailand images of Buddha are considered sacred objects of worship.  While it’s not illegal to have such a tattoo, wearing one could get you into trouble.

Three pictures of the backsides of men, each with a large picture tattoo from neck to thigh. Chinese art pictures as tattoos

below:  Here is another example of why people get the tattoos that they do.  This is a picture of one photograph in a series by Isabel Munoz.  Munoz spent three weeks inside several prisons in El Salvador and photographed mara gangs.  Gang members wear offensive tattoos to assert their antisocial behaviour and express their loyalty to the gangs.  Tattoos as statement; tattoos as a mark of membership and belonging.  Tribal.

photo of a picture in a museum of a man's face that has been tattooed with gang symbols and words,

below: A silicone arm with a tattoo by Montreal artist Yann Black on display.  This is one of 13 commissioned tattoos on silicone body parts – arms, legs and torsos both male and female that are part of the exhibit.   Tattoos as artwork.  Individuality.

a silicone arm has been tattooed with a design that looks something like a cross between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mondrian. It is in a glass showcase in a museum.

The oldest known tattoos were found on Otzi the Iceman, a natural mummy who was found in the Otzal alps near the Austria – Italy border in 1991.  His tattoos were 61 lines ranging in length between 7 and 40 mm.  The lines were arranged in groups.  Most of his tattoos were on his legs where there were 12 groups of lines.  Otzi is estimated to have died between 3239 BC and 3105 BC.

Tattooed mummies have also been found in other places – Greenland, Alaska, Siberia, Mongolia, western China, Egypt, Sudan, the Philippines, and the Andes in South America.  We will probably never know what significance the tattoos had.  Theories abound of course and they often involve reasons like protection, spiritual, status, tribal, or just for decoration.  Reasons that probably ring true today too.  The methods have changed and some of the images have changed, but human nature remains just that, human nature.

 

 

An art installation ‘Nest Egg’ by Brendan McNaughton
at the Corkin Gallery, Distillery District

The title of this blog post is taken from a description of McNaughton’s work on the Corkin gallery website, “The relationship between plutocrats and proletariats is central to his art practice.”  A plutocrat is a person who is powerful because they are wealthy.  Money equals power.  Proletariat on the other hand is a class of people, the working class, a class without money and without power.

below: A gold axe.  With its blade in a column, on a pedestal?  That’s not a passive positioning of the axe, i.e. it’s not just lying around.  Someone has swung it.
Axe as a symbol of the working class?  Juxtapositioned with gold, a symbol of money?

picture taken inside an art gallery - a tree trunk stands in the middle of a gold toned mirror, in the background, a gold plated (or gold colured) axe with its blade in the top of a white rectanguar column

below: A couple of the pieces were mirrors. But they were mirrors with a difference – slightly concave in shape, with a hint of gold, and marred by ragged shaped holes.  The resulting reflections are distorted and flawed.

an artwork by Brendan McNaughton of a slightly concave mirror but with a few torn holes in it. A bench is reflected in the mirror but because the mirror isnt't flat, the bench is distorted.

below: ‘Blue Chip’ a sculpture by Brendan McNaughton as viewed through one of his mirrors.  The expression ‘blue chip’ has become synonymous with high quality stocks, usually ones from the New York Stock Exchange.   Originally the expression meant stocks with higher prices because, if the story is correct, blue chips in poker are traditionally associated with the highest value.

Blue Chip, a sculpture by Brendan McNaughton, as viewed through an oval shaped mirror which is actually another art piece by the same artist.

below: The colour gold is very prevalent in this installation as are reflective surfaces.

picture taken inside an art gallery - a tree trunk stands in the middle of a gold toned mirror, also a mirror is on the top of each trunk, in the background are four panels of wrinkled gold

below: Parts of three wrinkly gold panels. There are actually four of these reflective square panels.  They are all the same size and colour but the surface patterns are slightly different.  Once again, the reflections are distorted.  Wealth distorts your view?

three square panels of reflective gold, wrinkled, material with reflections of people in them.

below: There was a group of what appeared to be photography students visiting the gallery at the same time that I was there. As I was standing beside this piece, looking for different and/or interesting angles and reflections, one of the students remarked on how he liked it when ordinary items were used in out of the ordinary ways. He then said that he wondered if it was …. and then he paused. I finished his sentence with the word ‘art’. He laughed and said yes, but that he was always afraid to say such things out loud. I gave him permission to ask “is it art?” as loud and as often as he wanted.

picture taken inside an art gallery - a tree trunk stands in the middle of a gold toned mirror,

picture taken inside an art gallery - a tree trunk stands in the middle of a gold toned mirror,

Installation ends May 1st