My aims in this article are twofold: first, to illuminate the activities of U.S. modern primitives by placing them in their cultural and historical context and, second, to use this example to make a general argument about resistance move- ments and their relation to existing social and cultural structures. In analyzing modern primitives I show how they mobilize both basic Western understandings of the world as embodied in cosmogonic mythology and classical economic theory (Sahlins 1996) and more immediate and historically particular American ideas about selves, society, and experience (Cannon 1989; Fox and Lears 1983; Lears 1983; McCracken 1988). In the process, I deploy a conception of cultural systems that understands them less as determinants of social activity and more as providing a framework for such activity—that is, as constituting the possibility of meaning. It is these "conditions of meaningfulncss" that I seek to explore for the practices represented in Modern Primitives.
The history of tattooing is shrouded in controversy. Citing the Polynesian derivation of the word “tattoo,” many scholars and tattoo enthusiasts have believed that the modern practice of tattooing originated in the Pacific, and specifically in the contacts between Captain Cook’s seamen and the Tahitians. Tattoodemonstrates that while the history of tattooing is far more complex than this, Pacific body arts have provided powerful stimuli to the West intermittently from the eighteenth century to the present day. The essays collected here document the extraordinary, intertwined histories of processes of cultural exchange and Pacific tattoo practices. Art historians, anthropologists, and scholars of Oceania provide a transcultural history of tattooing in and beyond the Pacific.
The contributors examine the contexts in which Pacific tattoos were “discovered” by Europeans, track the history of the tattooing of Europeans visiting the region, and look at how Pacific tattooing was absorbed, revalued, and often suppressed by agents of European colonization. They consider how European art has incorporated tattooing, and they explore contemporary manifestations of Pacific tattoo art, paying particular attention to the different trajectories of Samoan, Tahitian, and Maori tattooing and to the meaning of present-day appropriations of tribal tattoos. New research has uncovered a fascinating visual archive of centuries-old tattoo images, and this richly illustrated volume includes a number of those—many published here for the first time—alongside images of contemporary tattooing in Polynesia and Europe. Tattoo offers a tantalizing glimpse into the plethora of stories and cross-cultural encounters that lie between the blood on a sailor’s backside in the eighteenth century and the hammering of a Samoan tattoo tool in the twenty-first.
Contributors. Peter Brunt, Anna Cole, Anne D’Alleva, Bronwen Douglas, Elena Govor, Makiko Kuwahara, Sean Mallon, Linda Waimarie Nikora, Mohi Rua, Cyril Siorat, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Nicholas Thomas, Joanna White
This article focuses on the philosophy underpinning the non-mainstream body modification practices of `Modern Primitives'. This subculture seeks inspiration in the body modification techniques and bodily rituals of so-called `primitive societies'. Establishing their prioritization of body, sexuality, community and spirituality as analytical links, the author shows that these self-perceived radical opponents of Western modernity nonetheless remain captured in its foundational discursive assumptions. The author argues that the movement's enthusiastic turn towards `primitivism' represents a particular identity strategy within the late modern condition. Drawing on colonial discourse analysis, the author argues that the primitivist discourse originated as an ideology within colonialism and has informed the construction of the Western self-image. Modern Primitives' notion of `primitivism' is seen as a postcolonial legacy of this tradition of `othering', which inevitably reproduces stereotypes of racialized people.