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Skin is fascinating—it is the body’s largest and most visible organ. Ephemeral and

changeable, skin is unique to every individual. Moles, beauty spots, wrinkles, freckles,

and suntans naturally alter the epidermis and often tell a life’s story. Likewise, tattoos

accomplish the same goal—permanently altering the body’s surface to indelibly record

an image highly significant to the wearer (or more properly, collector, in the case of

someone with several tattoos). The history of tattooing is millennia old, with records of

skin decoration in nearly every culture. The artists featured in

Body Embellishment

hail

from around the globe, and their work references a variety of cultures. Long associated

with sailors, Maori warriors, rock stars, and even prisoners, the very word tattoo comes

from a Tahitian word meaning “to mark.” Tattoos are in fact healed wounds—the

dermis layer of skin is punctured and ink is inserted. As the wound heals, the pigment

is permanently trapped inside the layers of skin (although over time the pigment does

migrate deeper into the dermis, accounting for “faded” old tattoos). Whatever the image

recorded, technique used, or cultural practice reflected, a tattoo is always a significant

commitment for the collector.

“Tattoo” comes from the Tahitian

tatau

meaning “to mark”, but many wearers and

practitioners of Maori

moko

argue the word also refers to the sound the traditional

knives and chisels (or

uhi

) make when incising grooves into the skin. The highly sacred

art is practiced across New Zealand even in the twenty-first century, although many

moko

designers occasionally use mechanical needles. Inia Taylor, a member of the Ngati

Raukawa tribe on his mother’s side, uses hand tools made of bone to carve intricate

designs on his clients’ faces, hands, and limbs. Inia “the Third,” as he calls himself, learned

how to carve and sculpt traditional Maori designs as a child from family members and

MORE THAN SKIN DEEP