Beauty in tradition – Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World and Tatau: Marks of Polynesia

Two photographic exhibitions from the Japanese American National Museum, Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World, and Tatau: Marks of Polynesia both focus on tattoo, an art form with ancient roots and an array of distinct traditions and artist interpretations. Striking photographs capture living artistry that builds on and redefines cultural traditions.
The exhibitions complement each other well and are currently on display at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne, AUS together.

Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World
Although tattooing was largely seen as an underground activity in Japan, it has persevered and is now internationally renowned for its artistry, lineage, historic symbolism and the skill of its practitioners. Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World is a groundbreaking photographic exhibition by Kip Fulbeck and Takahiro Kitamura that includes life-sized photographs of full body tattoos, immersive elements, tools, and more. Perseverance explores the beauty of traditional Japanese tattoos as well as their rich history and influence on modern tattoo practices. Perseverance features the work of seven highly acclaimed tattoo artists. See below to learn more.

Ryudaibori (Takahiro Kitamura), Curator
Ryudaibori is renowned for his advocacy of Japanese tattooing as an art form and has worked as a visiting artist across the U.S. and Europe. He is the co-founder and co-director of the annual Bay Area Convention of the Tattoo Arts and the owner of State of Grace tattoo shop in San Jose, California.



Kip Fulbeck, Curator, Photographer & Designer
Kip Fulbeck is a pioneering artist, spoken word performer, and filmmaker. He is the author of six books and is the director of a dozen short films. Fulbeck teaches as a professor of Art at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he received the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award and has been named an Outstanding Faculty Member five times.



Horitomo (Kazuaki Kitamura), Featured Artist
Horitomo rose to the forefront of pioneering Japanese tattoo by bringing his own version of the Western style to Japan. He then undertook a Japanese apprenticeship and devoted his life to the study of traditional Japanese tattooing. In addition to his extensive knowledge of Japanese culture and tradition, Horitomo is also highly experienced in tebori (hand tattooing), the traditional Japanese tattooing method which predates the electric tattoo machine.


Horishiki (Chris Brand), Featured Artist
Horishiki is one of the world’s leading tattoo artists and has worked with tattoo legend Jack Rudy at the famed Good Time Charlie’s Tattooland in Anaheim for over a decade. Horishiki brings a unique perspective to Japanese tattooing and showcases some of the most original Chicano/Latino interpretations of traditional Japanese fables.


Miyazo (Masao Miyazaki), Featured Artist
Miyazo is widely considered one of Japan’s premier traditional tattoo artists. Based in Osaka, he is the only heir to the famed Horitsune lineage. Miyazo exemplifies the regional notoriety of tattooing and in his thirties is considered by many worldwide to be a master tattoo artist. He often exhibits at international conventions and is well known and respected in tattoo circles.



Shige (Shigenori Iwasaki), Featured Artist
Based in Yokohama, Shige embodies the synthesis of traditional Japanese tattoo with contemporary, modern styles. His tattoo work and paintings have been praised worldwide, and his work has been featured in magazines and at conventions, museums, and galleries. Shige is not only an award-winning tattoo artist, but also an ambassador of Japanese art.



Junii (Junko Shimada), Featured Artist
Originally from Japan, Junii is a pioneer in Japanese tattooing. She now tattoos with her husband Bill Salmon at Diamond Club Tattoo in San Francisco, California. She possesses unparalleled inside knowledge of both the Japanese and American tattoo worlds and is recognized as the most important woman in Japanese tattooing.



Yokohama Horiken (Kenji Hori), Featured Artist
Originally from Yokohama, Horiken is a renowned tebori specialist, one of the few residing in the U.S. He is a graduate of Tama Art University, and a self-taught tattoo artist who constantly works to refine and improve his tattoo skills. Horiken has also received a visa as an artist of extraordinary ability and currently tattoos at State of Grace.


Tatau: Marks of Polynesia
Samoa’s tatau, is one of the world’s most distinct living tattoo traditions. Tatau is an indigenous art form with a history that dates back 2,000 years. It has played a pivotal role in the preservation and propagation of Samoan culture, having survived multiple attempts at eradication. In Samoa, tufuga tā tatau (master tattoo artists) are granted high status in society, and acquiring tatau is considered a powerful affirmation of national identity, particularly for young men, for whom it is an important rite of passage.
The touring photographic exhibition Tatau: Marks of Polynesia explores the beauty of tatau as well as its key role in the preservation and propagation of Samoan culture. Tatau showcases the striking work of Samoan tattoo masters as well as younger apprentices and practitioners working within and influenced by the tradition today, with particular emphasis on the influential Sulu’ape family and their disciples. The legendary Petelo Sulu‘ape and his deceased brother Paulo are credited with spurring the resurgence of Samoan tattoos worldwide. Additional photographs taken in New Zealand, Hawai‘i, California, and Nevada demonstrate the spread of the art form outside of Samoa and some of its newer interpretations.

Tatau is curated by Takahiro “Ryudaibori” Kitamura, the master tattoo artist and author who also curated the successful exhibition Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World, and was photographed by John Acgaoili.



Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World and Tatau: Marks of Polynesia is a traveling exhibition from Japanese American National Museum toured internationally by Flying Fish. To learn more or inquire about hosting, get in touch!

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