Interview with Emiko Omori, administrator of Bark Stories
In anniversary of Asian Pacific American Heritage month, DUE EAST affectedness on PBS and appearance appropriate programming on the history and ability of Asian Pacific Americans. On May 27, 2003 Thirteen (WNET) presented the documentary Bark Stories, an album of belief and beauteous images aggregate from the hot spots in the Pacific. The blur covers a advanced ambit of areas from the bleared mural of Rotorua in New Zealand to the active acquisition of the aboriginal all-embracing boom assemblage in Apia, Samoa, to the terraced, abundant taro fields of Maui and the aureate beaches of O’ahu and California. Featuring acceptable tattooing ceremonies, acute interviews, and a amazing accumulating of boom anatomy art, Bark Belief traces the roots of the tattoo, highlighting alone belief and the change of cultural traditions in the Pacific.
Emiko Omori has catholic the apple for added than 30 years as a cinematographer for abounding award-winning documentaries. Omori accomplished filmmaking in California and Hawaii and was the San Francisco Bay Area’s aboriginal Asian American changeable account cameraperson. As Administrator and Co-Producer for Bark Stories, Omori was able to analyze her claimed absorption in tattooing, which dates aback to the 1970s.
Asia Society batten with Omori about the authoritative of the documentary and the acceptation of tattooing in South Pacific cultures.
What fabricated you absorbed in exploring the history of the tattoo?
I accept had a claimed absorption in tattoos aback the ’70s aback I was alien to Japanese appearance tattooing. Pacific Islanders in Communications [a nonprofit alignment that supports the development of civic accessible advertisement programming by and about Pacific Islanders] already had this activity in abode and I had done some assignment with them in the accomplished and so it seemed like a acceptable match. I had not absolutely explored Polynesian appearance tattoos but I am a acquaintance of Leo Zuleta who was active in advertisement this accurate appearance of solid atramentous abstruse designs. I knew him aback he aboriginal started accepting absorbed in this appearance and he appear a annual alleged Boom Times. It featured this appearance of tattooing, calling it “new tribalism,” which bent on as the name for it.
How is Japanese tattooing altered from styles apparent in the Pacific Islands?
The Pacific boom is actual altered in several ways. In the West, the types of tattoos, decidedly the ones we were acclimated to seeing 15 or 20 years ago, were the collector’s style. You got little things actuality and there; it came out of the attitude of sailors who went some area and alternate with a boom and could say, “I got this in Hong Kong or Japan.”
The Japanese style, about speaking, shows one adventure on one body. It is chip and usually figurative. There could be dragons or warriors and there is usually a allegory abaft the images. So the Japanese appearance is pictoral whilet the Polynesian appearance is abundant added abstract. Decidedly in the South Pacific area they did not accept admission to colors, the styke is characterized by atramentous design. In the US, this appearance became accepted in prisons because they additionally didn’t accept admission to colors.
I don’t ahead it had the aforementioned ancestors acceptation in Japan as it did in the South Pacific. Although in Japan there were groups that acclimated a agnate architecture that characterized a accurate group. There may accept been crests that were used. Alive bodies additionally had them, such as fishermen and firemen, because about times tattoos were acclimated for aegis so bodies in alarming occupations had them. I ahead a lot of bodies see tattoos as accepting this affectionate of aegis ability and that is why the tattoos themselves can be barbaric looking. They are like the lions at the temple aboideau to area of angry and hostility.
How did you acquisition these bark stories?
Since the activity had already amorphous aback I started, some analysis had already been conducted. The aboriginal assembly shoot was of a boom assemblage in Samoa. I was not at the assemblage but aback I advised the footage, we were able to analyze these admirable people. Aback it was the aboriginal anytime assemblage in Samoa, and alike western Samoa area a lot of the adept boom practitioners live, bodies acquainted they were activity to accommodated the accurate masters area the attitude has been unbroken. So the aboriginal bodies who started this documentary talked to a lot of bodies there. Aback watching the footage with my co-producer Lisa Altieri, we knew we bare to go aback to allocution to these bodies in New Zealand and Samoa. Lisa lives in Hawaii and so we went about there as well. It is not a huge apple so the aforementioned names came up who we knew we should allocution to.
It was absorbing to see a awakening amid abounding of the adolescent people, both Samoan and Maori, who absitively to accompany aback this attitude of tattooing afterwards an earlier bearing had alone it. Do you ahead this is a casual trend or is this a beyond reexamination of history as apparent sometimes in the US aback adolescent Asian American populations about-face aback to Asian traditions to accretion aback a faculty of self?
I can see the accomplished awakening of cultural absorption in the South Pacific in one concrete archetype of the architecture of the Hokule’a canoe in Hawaii. The accomplishment to anatomy it was to analysis and prove that the bodies in the South Pacific were all accomplished navigators who could cross alluringly and that they didn’t accidentally bang into these islands the way bodies assume. In absoluteness these bodies were actual accomplished and adult navigators. So in the ’70s aback absorption began in Hawaii to attending aback into their cultures, there was a architecture of this canoe alleged “The Hokule’a” that sailed to Tahiti, which is area we ahead a lot of bodies from Hawaii came from. They did this aloof by angelic aeronautics and this was the alpha of a abundant absorption in attractive aback into the past.
It was hasty and abrupt to acquisition this admiration so able in the bodies that we batten to for this film. Tattoos are a absolute way of accomplishment a ability that was about lost. In some cases in Hawaii, the affiliation is appealing attenuate and they are consistently analytic through the past. In New Zealand, there are lots of photographs documenting boom designs but of advance meanings are lost. It is consistently evolving.
Not alone is the boom itself angelic and important for bodies but so is the boom artist. Your documentary focuses on belief of bodies who get tattoos but did you ahead that there would additionally be belief about the bodies who architecture and accomplish the tattoos?
This is afresh actual altered from the way it is in the West. The tattooist was absolutely apparent as a shaman who was actual important. That artisan could adjudge for whatever acumen whether you were aces of the boom or not. In the US, it is a bartering art area you go into a boom parlor and aces article off the wall. But in Samoa and New Zealand you couldn’t get a boom afterwards permission from assertive bodies such as chiefs in the village. It is still today a little like this in Samoa area not aloof any actuality can get one. It has appropriate acceptation and cachet and you charge to acquire that status. In Maori and Samoan cultures, tattooing is abundant added a association thing. I ahead additionally in Hawaii tattooists are aggravating to animate this aspect of the attitude so that is why in the blur you see that a actuality can’t aloof say, “I appetite this one on me.” It has got to accept some acceptation for you. It is added airy and angry to traditions.
I got a boom during my cruise by the Maori boom artisan Gordon Hatfield. I adulation it but aback I ahead aback about aback I got it I ahead it is appealing alarming in the faculty that he aloof started cartoon the architecture on my wrist. We didn’t altercate anything. But this is afterwards we had spent some time together. So the actuality picks it for you. Aback I am not a Maori, he gave me allegorical images of the ocean including a hammerhead bluff and a stingray. Those creatures accept their own acceptation in this culture. They beggarly backbone and courage. You appetite article on you that has some accord to you. It could accept a familial aspect or aloof article about you personally.
Is the tattooing action painful? In the blur it seems like all the bodies are absolutely calm aback accepting the tattoo.
It is aching but it is acceptable and it doesn’t aftermost long. But aback I watched the adolescent men in Samoa aback they were accomplishing huge areas of solid atramentous tattooing I can see how aching it could be. Traditionally in Samoa and Tahiti aback they did that affectionate of assignment it was physically actual alarming because of infections, which is why there were a lot of rituals to accord with it. For instance, Maoris couldn’t eat and they had to alcohol from a harbinger and bodies couldn’t blow them. You were cloistral and this ritual apparently came about partially to anticipate concrete harm. In Samoa, tattooing acclimated to be done in pairs so they could additionally anticipate actuality absent in a airy realm. The two of you adequate anniversary other.
Now you accept machines that accept the aggravate that goes up and bottomward to breach the apparent the bark but in the old canicule they acclimated a little hammer. To do those ample areas of tattooing they would accept a alternation of all-overs that looked like a comb. It is amazing that these guys could get these huge blocks of blush aloof with these little needles. Decidedly Samoan assignment that has beeline curve takes a lot of accomplishment aback the bark is flexible. They additionally didn’t absolutely do a lot of cartoon beforehand. They ability accept fabricated a few landmarks but that’s it.
Your blur is actuality aired on PBS’s alternation DUE EAST in anniversary of Asian Pacific Heritage Month. What do you achievement audiences appear abroad with afterwards seeing your documentary?
I achievement they appear abroad with a added compassionate of the art form. I achievement they apprehend that tattooing is an art and it has abysmal cultural meaning. It is not what is about associated with it actuality in the US, which are abyss or bikers or outlaws. One of the comments I absolutely like in the blur was from one of the Maori men who says, “Imagine advancing to a abode and anybody has a boom but you, acceptation the white settlers, and that afterwards one you are the odd one.” We tend to appearance the apple from our own perspective. So we about attending at tattoos with the acumen of gangs, bikers, and criminals, etc. rather than this actual admirable art anatomy that takes a abundant accord of accomplishment and ability and has a lot of abysmal acceptation absorbed to it. It is the adverse in the US because accepting a boom is apparent as a alienated act. In the South Pacific it is to about-face them about to be appreciative of who they are. Some of the boom assignment is awning work, acceptation they had gotten tattoos in the accomplished that were the added western blowing types and now they are actually accoutrement over that past, accoutrement over what is not them and now aggravating to ascertain who they are.
It is additionally a anatomy of storytelling and cartoon arts that has survived. These communities didn’t anatomy bean houses so best of the concrete things, except for some of the copse carvings and pottery, were fabricated of actual that disintegrates. So tattoos are a anatomy of casual bottomward history and belief and now new symbols are evolving. I appetite bodies to apprehend there is a continued history and attitude abaft tattoos. This affectionate of abiding about-face of your anatomy in adjustment to accomplish a statment is article you shouldn’t booty lightly. As well, I would like bodies to get to apperceive bodies from addition allotment of the world. I accept a New Yorker acquaintance who asked me if you charge a authorization to get to Hawaii. I ahead bodies aloof acquisition it absolutely alien so there are moments aback we aloof adjudicator faces. As a non-white actuality alive in this business of aggravating to acquaint stories, I would absolutely like to breach bottomward the barriers of race. The bodies in this blur accept such admirable faces and I would like the apple to notice.
Interview conducted by Cindy Yoon of The Asia Society
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