The Iñupiaq artist is part of a new generation revitalizing Inuit tattooing

inuit, tattoo, inupiaq, artist, sarah whalen-lunn

The stencils of finished tattoos inside Sarah Whalen-Lunn’s home studio honoring the hundreds of intimate and healing sessions she has had in her home since becoming a tattoo artist about six years ago.

A hand-drawn pair of wolves is attached next to a raised fist with “solidarity” written underneath. Nearby are carvings of a polar bear, a harpoon and a cluster of berries.

The imagery-based tattoos were made traditionally by Whalen-Lunnan Anchorage-based Iñupiaq artist.

Giving tattoos has helped Whalen-Lunn connect with her culture and those in her community. When she first started, she could count on one hand the number of women she had seen with face tattoos.

Now she guessed that number is in the hundreds.

[Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations happening in Anchorage]

Tattooing, Whalen-Lunn said, is a “tradition that we had for thousands of years, before this tiny little blip of colonization and religion and missionaries, and now we can take it back.”

An expression of identity

Whalen-Lunn is part of a new generation of Native tattoo artists bringing new life to the techniques practiced by Iñupiat and Yup’ik women in Alaska for thousands of years. Christian missionaries who arrived in Alaska in the 19th and 20th centuries banned many of the indigenous cultural practices, including tattooing.

[US identifies hundreds of Native American deaths associated with historic boarding schools]

Inuit tattooing consists of two different methods, hand pricking and the original technique of skin stitching. Hand pricking uses a needle to insert ink into the skin, whereas in skin stitching, which is less common now, the tattooist uses a needle to stitch into the skin with thread dipped in ink, according to the Anchorage Museum’s exhibit page at “Identification Marks: Tattoos and Expressions”.

The museum the exhibition was part of Tupik Mi –– a movie and Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project, like Anchorage’s Holly Mititquq Nordlum introduced around 2016.

Historically, tattooing was done throughout the circumpolar north by women for women.

Traditional markings –– incl Board of Directors (chin tattoo), sassuma aana (tattoos on the fingers represent the sea mother), iri (tattoos in the corner of the eye) and siqñiq (forehead tattoo that also means “sun”) –– are extremely personal and are often used as expressions of cultural and individual identity, Whalen-Lunn said.

“The whole process is different,” she said of Inuit tattooing compared to Western tattooing. “It’s quieter, it’s more patient. It’s not necessarily about the aesthetic of how it looks, but it’s about the intention of it.”

For hand-stitching sessions, Whalen-Lunn said she hand-builds the tools for each recipient during the appointment, ensuring they are made with intention.

A resurgence

Whalen-Lunn was one of a handful of artists selected to participate in the Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project through the Anchorage Museum’s Urban Intervention Series by the Polar Lab program. The program was led by Nordlum, who is originally from Kotzebue, and the Greenlandic tattoo artist Maya Sialuk Jacobsen. Ultraviolence Tattoo owner Jake Scribner was the cohort’s Western tattoo mentor.

“At the time, I had no idea our people had tattoos, like no idea,” Whalen-Lunn said.

It was during training in 2016 that Whalen-Lunn first heard Iñupiaq being spoken.

Her mother, Irene “Bumba” Hayes, was taken out of Unalakleet at a very young age, she said, resulting in Whalen-Lunn’s acute disconnection from her culture.

“There’s been such a resurgence in Native art and Native pride, and you see it in every aspect,” she said. “(You see it in) language, you see it in food, you see it in art, you see it everywhere. It’s like coming home again. People are looking for ways to get home.”

inuit, tattoo, inupiaq, artist, sarah whalen-lunn

Whalen-Lunn began traveling to Alaska’s northern villages to tattoo after she said she received a Rasmuson Foundation grant in 2018 — the first tattoo artist awarded such a grant.

Through a National Endowment for the Arts grant, she and her 16-year-old child, Bowie, visited St. Paul Island last August, and Whalen-Lunn tattooed residents for two weeks — her first work trip since the pandemic.

The trip was partly an opportunity for Bowie to see if tattooing is something they are interested in.

“We did quite a few things where they really got to experience what it’s like to be one Native with another Native doing this work that, you know, hadn’t been done in over 100 years for us,” said Whalen- Lunn. “Just to see the excitement and the kind of hunger that (Bowie has) to be involved in this traditional tattoo. It’s just pretty incredible.”

As she continues, Whalen-Lunn hopes that Inuit tattooing will become more normalized and a part of everyday life for younger generations.

Her own traditional markings help her understand herself and provide a way to give back to her community.

“They steel you in who you are, they kind of force you to go a little bit higher,” she said. “They force you to try to do a little bit better. They’re constant reminders of your ancestors, of who goes with you. So they change you.”

• • •

Related Posts

Cash as canvas, Turner returns and footwear becomes modern – the week in art | Art and design

Exhibition of the week The art of the terracesMark Leckey and more look at the subculture of football matches. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, November 5-12. March We…

Credit Notes: Midterm Election Ads, Jeff Bezos and JAY-Z | The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon – The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Credit Notes: Midterm Election Ads, Jeff Bezos and JAY-Z | The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon  The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

The Crown: Why all the fuss when the facts of what happened still shock as much as the fiction? | UK News

Whatever the critics or the royal family might think of The Crown, you can’t help but think the reality of what happened in the 1990s is as…

Elon Musk says Twitter layoffs were because the company was losing $4 million a day

Elon Musk gives his reasoning for sending thousands of Twitter employees packing … he says the bird app was hemorrhaging money. Papa Elon broke his silence Friday…

Top Comic Book Writers 3-1

The countdown concludes with the last three writers that you voted as your favorites of all-time (out of roughly 1,023 ballots cast, with 10 points for first…

Katsuyori Shibata loses his first match in AEW

Tonight’s (Nov. 4) live episode of AEW Rampage in Atlantic City, New Jersey, kicked off with an All Atlantic City Dream match between Orange Cassidy and Katsuyori…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *