"Body Language": The Skin Speaks In Tattoos
Review of Body Language at The Burke Museum
Written by Teen Writer Olivia Qi and edited by Disha Cattamanchi
After centuries of suppression, the Indigenous American art of tattooing is resurging. Native people are increasingly getting traditional tattoos that empower and connect them to their heritage; the exhibit Body Language at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture spotlights this movement. Body Language: Reawakening Cultural Tattooing of the Northwest is guest-curated by Dion Kaszas, a Nlaka'pamux cultural tattoo practitioner. The exhibit features tattooers from the Tlingit, Nisga’a, Naida, Heiltsuk, and Nlaka’pamux tribes. It effectively, albeit repetitively, teaches the viewer about tattoo art’s resilience and practitioners through photos, artifacts, and plenty of wall text.
Body Language is laid out to teach the viewer of the history of Native tattooing, before focusing on its significance in the modern age. The exhibit’s first section is hardly about tattoos—it’s about boarding schools, crests, potlatches, myths, and labret piercings. Pairing physical artifacts with photos and text, the exhibit paints a picture of the culturally rich and socially complex lives of Native people on the Northwest coast.