Live tattooing for art's sake

Skin art: Contemporary tattoo artist Jaco Schmidt works on a design at the City Gallery, Wellington.
Skin art: Contemporary tattoo artist Jaco Schmidt works on a design at the City Gallery, Wellington.

Tatau artists are giving gallery-goers a unique piece of Samoan culture.

Sui faiga ae tumau fa'avae is an active exhibition at City Gallery featuring tattoo artists Tuigamala Andy Tauafiafi, Ismael Jaco ''J'' Augustine Schmidt and Bryan ''Juse One'' Visala.

Unique Samoan designs are created and tattooed live in the gallery space, opening up the art to a wider public.

Tauafiafi, a tattoo artist from Taupou Tatau on Dixon St, says the exhibition is a way of breaking down stereotypes that come with tattoos. ''We're not all criminals or gang members.

''We're showcasing something different that's not normally in a gallery. It's an interactive piece where people can come along and, not necessarily get a tattoo, but it's more about being part of it and experiencing it.''

The tattoo artists are using modern techniques for their designs, while Paul Junior Sulu'ape is performing demonstrations through using an au, or comb chisel, in a customary technique that involves tapping pigment into the skin.

Tauafiafi says each client is given a consultation, where a design is created and drawn straight onto the skin to work with the shape and contours of the body. Each Samoan tattoo portrays a message and people could come in with ideas or characteristics they wanted their design to include, he says.

The exhibition opens the art usually restricted to tattoo parlours to the wider public.

''A lot of older people are coming through and have had quite a fascination with what we're doing. They're people who would not necessarily go in their own time to a tattoo shop,'' he says.

About six tourists from Canada and Europe received custom designed tattoos, a piece of Samoa and New Zealand to take home with them.

The tattoo artists share this space with the Killa Kutz barber crew Pio ''Rock'' Paulo, Poasa ''P'' Poasa and Michael ''Snoop'' Vaisigano, who specialise in urban Pacific hairstyling.

- Sui faiga ae tumau fa'avae, City Gallery every day except Sundays until October 7. Traditional chisel demonstrations until September 14. Bookings at

Contact Sophie Speer
Culture and Capital Day reporter
Twitter: @sophie_speer

The Dominion Post