Have you worked overseas much? If so, where? What are the best things to you about working overseas? What are the worst things to you about working overseas?
Yes, I have enjoyed a tā moko residency in Santa Fe and with fellow indigenous tattoo artists. I haven’t really enjoyed conventions unless there is indigenous support there. I enjoy residencies as they usually enable a more cultural context, speaking and interacting with other communities and cultures. The BEST thing about international travel is sharing the tatau revival with other indigenous communities and feeling humbled by their own stories. I miss home and my kids and I don’t like to travel without them, they are my rock.
Do you prefer to work privately or in tattoo studios? Why/explain?
I have enjoyed working on marae and traveling a lot with moko in the past however through the years with a family I have learned that it is healthier to separate family and work – my kids deserve my attention and they require more attention to their own interests as they get older. I love travelling to marae and personal homes and tā moko has taken me all over the country. This however can be incredibly tiring, lack of sleep, often a lot of gear preparation and bad lighting etc – and too much good food! I never thought I would enjoy working from a studio but I do as I can separate my professional space and have privacy when I wish. It also encourages the clients to treat me in a more professional manner and allows me to rest and control the work environment in fact it is crucial that the artist can put their comfort first to ensure the best artistic result.
How do you feel about non-Māori tattooers, incorporating Māori design and patterns into their art or tattoo work? Do you approve/disapprove? Why/explain?
I’m really not fond of how Polynesian artists are using a large kōwhaiwhai element to break up areas of pattern in their work – it is usually not harmonious, nor correct and to me it doesn’t work with their geometric languages. There are a small handful of artists that are doing a better job of it but I don’t think it adds to the integrity of their own art forms. I think they should spend time exploring new pattern languages and compositions without using Māori design. Essentially without having to waffle on, I disapprove as it generally doesn’t add anything to our art form and often reinforces less-flattering design.
Do you tattoo non-Māori people and if so, why/why not? Do you differentiate between what you do for non-Māori clients compared to what you do for Māori clients? If so, how do you differentiate and what is the difference, if any, in your eyes, between the two?
In the early days, I refused to tattoo Pākehā unless they had an intimate connection with Māori through family etc. this was because I felt that Māori had to see their art form in a healthy place before non-Māori could be seen to ‘steal’ this. However, today, and operating out of a studio, I am willing to tattoo non-Māori. It is always constituted from my tā moko vocabulary but the form and detail knowledge may be missing – it may be small elements of design in a fern or spiral etc if it is something for say, a tourist. Why? Because there is great power in ensuring non-Māori come along for the journey and are educated so they don’t go to a non-Māori and ask for our art. If it comes from me, it's moko and I give clients the same respect. For Pākehā that are more involved with respect for our things, I will give more substantial moko. My role is to progress our art form and not belittle it or the people that I apply it to. I see applying moko on non-Māori as a powerful tool towards our cause – we can ensure people have a bigger Māori heart and work for our us – we can't advance without friends and our whakapapa extends beyond ourselves, just as our world now extends beyond our initial beliefs and limitations.
Do you use/support the term ‘kirituhi’? If so, why? If not, why?
No, for me moko is moko, the language lies with the artist and if I apply it to anyone, its moko. If its applied by non-Māori its not moko but an appropriation of it. I think labeling it as kirituhi is a little degrading to the wearer and also to you as an artist. I mean we put our design on T Shirts – its really down to the mana of any wearer to wear something well, Māori or Pākehā and as an artist, you are applying the best version of moko no matter the kaupapa.
What do you find challenging about being a moko artist? Have you had any challenges on your path as a moko artist? What were they and how did you overcome them?
Plenty – it’s all a challenge, everyday. These are okay as long as you don’t lose faith in your ability to overcome them. Religious views and colonized ideas, while I respect people and their rights to these views, they limit our ability to see the threats to our culture. At times they swallowed me however, surrounding yourself with a few good friends that absolutely support you and supporting others will help you move through. Realize that people that want to hold you back or put you down are power tripping, protecting or hiding something themselves.
What do you want to contribute to the art form in you career as a moko artist?
Shit, I don’t know how to answer that one …? Sometimes things just sort of come to you as what you want to do, not because you think of it yourself either, someone else tells you that you should do it. That’s why I’m doing a book project, because I got blocked from one once for defending the rights of my client and also because I think we spend too much time trying to define what ‘authentic moko’ or anything else looks like.
I want to offer my perspective, not because I am an authority but because I realize that I have history to bring to this perspective, one in which moko was rare and being rebirthed – to where we are today, a hugely persuasive art form, internationally. I want to re-establish the importance of the individual artist – even historically – in the creative process – we were never passive inheritors of design, but always artists.
To connect with Julie online, go here.