Inuit face tattoos

Resistance through beautiful things

Resistance through beautiful things

Could cleanliness the picture grace

Voice work by Sean Bufton.

In the early 1800s, a lady from the south visited the north--an experience she chronicled in a book entitled A Peep at the Esquimaux: Scenes on the Ice

We don’t know how far north she went, although we can speculate that she might have travelled at least as far as Baffin Island on a British ship engaged in the hunt for the Northwest Passage. 

And, if this was the case, we could also speculate that she was not really a she, but a he … maybe an explorer or whaler? 

To continue the fiction, however, our lady author did not speak in flattering terms of the “Esquimaux woman.” 

Instead, this woman “can no beauties boast,” given her big lips, tiny dark eyes and unclean face--

Esquimaux woman.PNG

unclean, perhaps, because of the intricate facial tattoos displayed in the accompanying drawing. 

Certainly a rejection of tattoos would have been consistent with the reactions of other southern folk from this and earlier centuries, who often responded negatively to Indigenous body markings on both women and men (Sinclair, 1909).  

Flash forward … to the early 21st century and a time when Inuit women no longer tattooed their bodies--this being one of the many traditional practices, which had been discouraged, if not oppressed, as a result of colonization of the north by southerners. 

In an act of resistance, if not resurgence, Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril made the decision to be tattooed, and in the process has inspired other women to do the same. 

The purpose of our project is to explore Alethea’s journey in terms of the concept of resurgence. Unlike flashpoints, such as the blockades at Oka or Ipperwash, the revitalization of women’s tattooing is not overtly land-based and thus might not qualify, in strict terms, as an act of resurgence--at least as defined by Indigenous scholars such as Taiaiake Alfred (2013), Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (2014) and Glen Coulthard (2016). 

And yet, Alethea’s self-identified “resistance through beautiful things,” which began as a personal journey has led to an internationally recognized film and reflects and feeds a renewed interest in Indigenous tattooing around the world. The non-violent and everyday can be a powerful agent for decolonization (Corntassell, 2012).

 

 

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril

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