Alex: Ta Moko

November 9, 2011

On November 4th, I got a Maori-style Ta moko. It is the greatest experience I’ve had, in New Zealand or elsewhere.

I’m not sure how to talk about this. I’m not sure if I can separate the experience from the well of emotion I feel about this, so I think I may just not try. I apologize if this gets a little too real.

It’s no secret that I came to New Zealand to research my final project on Ta moko.  It is also no secret that I love tattoos.  I could talk about those two things alone for entire volumes, but I won’t.  No, I have a specific event to talk about.  I came here hoping above all other things to get a ta moko.  The style means a lot to me, and I’ve poured dozens of hours into learning everything about the style, the culture and the people.  I feel connected to it in a way that I have never felt connected to an art form before.  And it is an art form that I can wear on my skin, so I was dying to carry it with me my entire life.

So I do.  I made my appointment, and I showed up just five short days ago now.  My artist, Brad, had drawn the pattern a few days before, and proceeded to redraw it and without any sort of ceremony, began tattooing.

I had forgotten how painful tattoos are.  The pain fades with time, our brains are pretty good at that, but it was most certainly painful.  I think that it was more painful than my previous tattoo, even though it was farther from bone.  As he tattooed a swirling circle of protection on my shoulder, I felt my entire arm shake.  My bones vibrated in time with the machine, as if we had merged for that brief, excruciating moment.  When he reached the thin skin of my underarm, I was almost certain the tiny needles would tear my skin apart.

But the art began to take shape.  There was a moment where, between the pain, my staring at the lights, and beginning to see the tiny forms appear, I actually began to tear up.  I’m a wimp, I know, but I can’t explain it.  This art is something I’ve only ever read about and seen on others, but to experience it was transcendent.  It was spiritual.  It was beautiful.  It is intricate and detailed, and yet broad and sweeping.  It is everything I had imagined and more.  It is still difficult for me to reconcile that something so beautiful is a part of me.

I try not to get terribly personal on this blog.  This post is going to fail at that.  I apologize for breaking format, but I had to get his out, and it’s not the sort of thing I can sneak into regular conversation.

I’ve never really felt like I’m attractive, and that’s my issue.  It’s because I’m overweight and my culture tells me that means I’m unattractive.  I get that.  But now, I get up every day, and I see this beautiful piece of art on my shoulder and I feel like I’m on top of the world.  I’ve never in my life been excited to take off my shirt until four days ago. It is liberating and a little terrifying.  I’m excited to have other people see it.  I’m excited to have other people appreciate my body, even only a small part of it.

Perhaps I have some deep-seated fear of being boring, and having a tattoo allows me to reassure myself that I am at the very least not boring, even if being interesting doesn’t make me attractive.  Whatever it is, I’m okay with it.  Tattoo enthusiasts will talk about a “tattoo high,” that once you get one, you keep craving more.  I had that with my first tattoo, but this most recent one has made me feel so incredibly good that I cannot wait to get another.

I apologize for this being so personal.  This body image issue means a lot to me, and it is difficult for me to discuss it without involving my personal struggle with it.
This may be one of my last posts on this blog, as my journey is nearing its close.  I am sad to leave, but I will be glad to be home.

One comment

  1. Great to see you got your self a genuine Ta moko or Maori tattoo from New Zealand. Unfortunately living far away over seas means I could not make the trip but got in contact with Tiki O’Brien, a Maori artist from New Zealand. He created me an awesome Maori design based on my family and the important events of my life.

    With some photos I sent of where I wanted to place the design and some information about me, he did his magic. Tiki would send my designs back to me by email. After a little sizing and scale and a few adjustments, I had my own Maori tattoo that is personal to me and is why i will always treasure Maori arts.

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