For many Pacific Islander’s, a tattoo is a marker of one’s cultural identity – a reminder of one’s heritage and a visual story to carry on their skin. The art of tattooing has travelled the world over and while its popularity has continued strongly into contemporary culture today, the awareness of the traditional practices of tattooing in Papua New Guinea is dwindling. Tep Tok is a documentary aimed at reversing this situation.
The documentary follows four women of Papua New Guinea and Australian descent as they explore their village tattooing traditions. Tattooing in Central Province, among the Mekeo, Hula, Motu, Mailu and Aroma came to a standstill for a number of reasons, but most notably due to the impact of Christian missionaries in the late 18th century. There were a few pockets of active tattooing that survived, however by the end of World War II, traditional tattooing had largely vanished; including most of the knowledge, stories and social customs that accompanied it. In rediscovering this art form in a Papuan context the film documents the film makers journey which takes them from Australia to Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Samoa, Tahiti, Cook Islands and back.
The four filmmakers hope that by exploring the different tattooing traditions of Pasifika cultures they hope to revitalize the dying art in PNG worn by their grandmothers. A particular focus of the documentary will question the changes in PNG tattooing traditions and explore the gendered protocols and rituals of tattoo in PNG using the stories of elder PNG women and young mixed race women living in Australia. Through their own experiences in embarking on this journey the filmmakers have a greater understanding of the richness of their heritage as they begin to questions things they had once taken for granted. Creating Tep Tok in the hope to inspire the practice of central province tattooing in the next generation. Tep Tok is a story that hopes to bring light to a vanishing ancient practice; through the desire to reinvent what has been lost.
The documentary will be presented by Julia Gray. Julia is of Papua New Guinean and Australian heritage. After graduating from the University of Adelaide with an Honours degree in Dance she co-founded Sunameke, a Pacific cultural performance group in Adelaide in 1997. From its original group of four, Sunameke has since grown to include a diverse group of multicultural performers and as a result has created many productions, which have been showcased in both Australia and New Zealand.